Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Election is On!

On Wednesday, Gordon told the Today programme that:

"There is a time for discussing debates, but we are not in an election. I have decided in my own mind.

I am not going to go into that today because basically there is a time for deciding these issues and the time for me at the moment, where I have got to spend my time, is going round the country as I have been doing over the last few months to explain to people the policies that we are engaged in."

Now, on, Gordon says:
"It is right that we set the issues before the British people. Others can work out the details but what's important for the country is that there is a wide ranging series of television and radio debates with party leaders"
So, on Wednesday it wasn't the time to say whether he would get into a debate with the other leaders because we weren't in the election. Now, it is the time to say whether he will debate with them. So ... we must be in an election?

Which leaves only one more question: WHEN?

When do we get to throw you out, then, Gordon?


Or can you not make your mind up on that, either?


  1. I'm starting to feel a twinge of sympathy for a man so befuddled he...

    Oh, wait. No, actually I'm not!

  2. At one level it is good news that he's agreed to a debate. He's unlikely to come out of it as well as Cameron or even Clegg. On the other hand, I wonder how wise it is for democracy to be reduced in this way to presentational skills. The best TV personality is not necessarily the best PM.

  3. Note that Wicksie has parsed Brown's actual words, though, and noted that he doesn't as such promise to take part in a live, televised debate with the other party leaders present.

    As I've commented there, this could be another Brownish cock-up in the making. If he now turns round and says “I never agreed to this and won’t do it”, he will be roasted alive for either reneging or weaseling.

    Albert - I do agree that the skills we want of a PM are not a perfect match with the skills needed to excel in one of these debates. Brown does avoid debate, though, and uses/abuses the PMQs format to his own advantage. We don't have any other way of properly comparing the potential PMs, any way of getting questions & answers to & from each of them directly, without the filter of their spin doctors.

    So without a history of these debates, we have in recent years been blessed with PMs who have an excellent spin team. That is probably a worse match to the required skills than good TV skills.

    So yes, debates are not perfect. Not by a long chalk.. But they are a lot better than the status quo.

    Julia - no, no sympathy here either.

  4. P,

    Mmmmm....Yes a debate would have filtered out Brown. But would it have filtered out Blair? Once we start these debates we will always have them, so the only people who could be PM would be spin doctors themselves. So one needs to weigh up the short term benefits of exposing Brown (which is hardly necssary now) over the negative long term effects of adding yet another layer of professional spin to our political life. It seems a very high price just to get rid of Brown (especially as he's managing to get rid of himself perfectly by himself).

  5. It is widely accepted that Major was an effective debater - remember the soap box?

    But we don't know what would have happened, we can only look forward. Imperfect as a leader's debate is, it is better than what we have now. It takes some control of the debate out of the hands of the candidates and their spin doctors and puts it in the hands of others.

    We shold be glad this is happening. That is not to say that we should now stop trying to improve the quality of political debate, but we should still go ahead with this.

  6. Anyway, the rights and wrongs of the debate are neither here nor there. The point is...

    Why is today the right day to say what he has already decided, but Wednesday wasn't??

    Did he forget to take his pills on Wednesday morning or something? Or does he take us all for fools?

  7. Blair would have definitely got in.
    No bad thing. The choice at election is domestic policies for UK and how the PM will appear to the rest of the world. Blair was/is a major world player. Just not as big as he thought, but still big.

    Mrs T might have just scraped it with her no nonsense style and convictions. Certainly against Michael Foot.

    John Major would probably not have made it, whereas Neil Kinnock probably would.

    The long term effect of presidential debates is nothing anyway. Bush won - twice!

  8. Imperfect as a leader's debate is, it is better than what we have now.

    This is not obvious. Remember the Nixon/Kennedy debate and the peculiar difference between the views of those who listened on the radio compared with those who watched on TV? The lesson of that example is that these debates have the opposite effect of the one for which you are hoping.

  9. Albert - so what would you suggest instead?

  10. It may be there is no adequate solution, but this admission does not entail accepting a solution that is worse than we have already, neither does it shift the burden of proof onto me to find an alternative.

  11. P, It is widely accepted that Major was an effective debater - remember the soap box?

    But is it widely accepted that Major was an effective PM? And even if it were, there's no obvious correlation between the two.

    Atlee has been held by some to be an effective PM (whatever one thinks of his policies), but would he have been good in a TV debate?

  12. Televised debates are a good idea for Labour if Gordon is no longer leader of the Labour party. "Now who is that?" the nation will say.

    Patently and Albert, you need to focus on the influence of what needs to be determined: What format should they take? Who takes part? Who sets the questions? Do participants have prior knowledge of the questions?

    At least it will liven up what are usually interminable weeks before an election by introducing the thinking man's X factor.

  13. The leaders' debates are a long overdue admission that we now have a presidential democracy. We do not - as Labour MPs protest - vote for the party we wish to have as a majority in parliament. In 2005 people voted for Blair over Howard. It will be ironic if the admission comes during a period where we have an unelected president.

  14. I agree with Measured (!) the format will be the critical issue. The US debates are very staid, with the same questions set to both contenders with set periods for reply. We could do better than that.

    I suggest a series of head-to-head interviews by, say, Paxman, Marr, Boulton, or even by "experts" in particular fields or industries.

    The key thing about getting something useful out of the debates will be whether they cut through the bullshit (pardon my French). Brown is particularly strong on bullshit with his tractor stats and re-announced policies. If the leaders are just able to stand there and make meaningless promises the debates will be worthless.

  15. Measured, the question of who takes part is a useful one. My guess is that the problems I am worrying about are greater if all three party leaders take part (and greater still if more leaders can).

    On such a debate it will become harder to keep tabs on the policies of each of them and instead the presentational skills (or in Brown's case la merde de le taureau) will predominate.

    Blue, I like the idea of head-to-head interviews. Paxman would ensure they don't descend into unenlightening, self-serving debate about Joe the Plumber.

  16. "There is a time for discussing debates, but we are not in an election. I have decided in my own mind."

    "OWN MIND"...???!!! You meen you HAVE a mind?

    Just can not help feeling I have heard that comment before, and THEN a bong, a chillum, a bottle with the bottom broken out, a very surprised (and HAPPY) gold fish, plus 50 pounds worth of best Thai temple ball, and a VERY large supply of matches were involved.