Thursday, 15 April 2010

How to watch the Leadership Debates (in short don’t)

Tonight’s leadership debate, live on TV, the first ever in a British General Election, is being billed as a ‘historic’ moment for our democracy. If you are an undecided voter my advice to you is, don’t watch it.

Televised leadership debates, in my opinion, merely reinforce all of the prejudices and opinions you already hold. The Chancellor’s Debate for example on Channel 4 earlier this month told me that George Osborne looks pre-pubescent, Vince Cable seems like a kindly uncle and Alistair Darling has funny eyebrows. Nothing new there then.

No, the best way to engage in this historic moment is on radio, because there is a chance you will actually listen to what is being said rather than looking at a participant’s hairline or trying see who sweats more in front of the cameras.

There is a precedent for this. Many of those who listened on radio to the 1960 Presidential Debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon believe to this day that Nixon won. Unfortunately, television viewers were greeted with Tricky Dicky’s five o’clock shadow, sweaty upper lip and a light coloured suit which seemed to blend him into the background scenery.

Kennedy, looking tanned, youthful and totally at ease, was judged to have won the debate in what is regarded as a pivotal moment, although I also think the classic election advertisement of a picture of Nixon with the caption “Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man” had something to do with it.

So I urge you all to go home tonight and tell your other halves that you won’t be turning on the TV for Coronation Street or the football, but instead you will be listening to politics on Radio 5 Live. Good luck with that!


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