Monday, 13 October 2014

Throw away your television

As Douglas Carswell returns to parliament today as the first ever UKIP MP to be elected to the House Of Commons, the issue of whether UKIP leader Nigel Farage should appear in the party leaders' television debates in the run up to next year's general election is once again in the spotlight.

It's easy to think there's no simple answer to this conundrum.  Some people say the debates should be restricted to those party leaders who have a realistic chance of becoming the next Prime Minister - in which case, should Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg even be included, since the next Prime Minister is likely to be either David Cameron or Ed Miliband?  Other people, however, say that UKIP have a right to be included, now that they have parliamentary representation, and can therefore claim to be a serious political movement - but in that case, shouldn't the Green Party, who've been represented in the Commons by Caroline Lucas since 2010, also be involved?  And how about parties like Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the DUP, etc. - all of whom have more MPs sitting in Westminster than either UKIP or the Greens?

However, there is a simple answer, and it is this:  scrap the television debates.

That's right.  Let's get rid of this clunky, unnecessary, counter-productive political device which has been imported from America and shoehorned into our vastly different political system with practically no alterations.

In America, voters have a straight choice between candidate this guy and candidate that guy - the television debates can help to set out the difference between each candidate's vision, and allow people to make a more informed choice when they go to vote.  Here in the UK, we have a multi-party parliamentary system; very few of the people watching the debates will actually be voting for David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage - and with many parties competing for representation in the House Of Commons, looking to influence policy, the choice facing British voters is not a simple 'this or that' decision.

The televised leaders' debates serve to make our electoral system seem more presidential, and in doing so, diminish the link between local MPs and their constituents.  They oversimplify politics in a way which doesn't serve the country at all.  It's time to admit that they were a mistake in 2010, and we'll be better off without them in 2015.

As for UKIP…?  They have one narrative - an attempt to frame political discourse as a simple case of UKIP and their supporters against the world (because all the other political parties are the same), and whether they are involved in the television debates or not, this too will be twisted to fit this narrative.

Exclusion from the debates will prove that UKIP are victims of an 'establishment' conspiracy to keep them down - whilst inclusion will give Mr Farage the chance to show how the other party leaders are all 'ganging up' on him, proving that there's no difference between the main parties, and that UKIP is the only credible alternative to a Westminster consensus which is only looking out for itself and not the interests of the country at large.  Once again, we're better off without the debates altogether.

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