“So, do you think all this hoo-ha has been worth it for Cameron or has he shot himself in the foot?” asks my husband. He is, of course, talking about the Prime Minister’s refusal to fully take part in televised head-to-head debates with the other main party leaders – and UKIP.
I answered – almost in the style of a politician – with a question.
“It depends what causes more damage,” I say.
The risk of going head-to-head against your political opponents on live TV is that they will make you look stupid/dishonest/unworthy of being elected, or that you will trip yourself up and do the same. Not only will (some of) the electorate be watching but so will journalists poised to report on your performance and driven by the Curse of News Reporting: Bad News is Big News. (“Please let’s have another Sheffield Rally, another ‘terrible bigoted woman’… please,” they won’t be able to help themselves thinking.)
But if you refuse to take part, make a fuss about who you’ll debate with or try to throw your weight around and control what
could be viewed as an instrument of British democracy, an echo of Parliament itself – a public debate on how to run the country and the issues thrown up by this – then you look like someone lacking the courage of their convictions, afraid of being made to look a fool. By people one constantly claims are unfit to run the country because only you can do that!
I think it’s worse not to take part but – and this is why I imagine the Conservatives are shouting about why these debates should not be held during the official General Election Campaign – by the time the 7th May swings round hardly anyone will be thinking about the fact David Cameron chickened out of the live TV debates. Especially if they’re not too bright and have been dazzled by the dangled carrot of tax cuts, cheap(er) beer, the chance to set up their own free school and promises that no more scary foreigners will be able to come and live here (not only taking our jobs and our women – but our welfare system too!).
The audience reached by the virtual, online world of ‘new’ media seems to continue to grow with the invention of every new mobile gadget on/through which to consume it and the way we view news and entertainment is no longer confined to the medium of television. But Telly has not yet been kicked of its throne – otherwise huge screens would not be dominant in so many British living rooms. And Telly is where we can all gather round the hustings. To hear what these men have to say about how they will serve the people they represent. Democracy beamed into your living room. They have the right to speak and we have the right to hear…. unless the voice is Mr Cameron’s apparently.