I can safely say that, until very recently, I was not looking forward to the televised leaders’ debates planned during the run-up to May’s general election.
You may remember the leaders’ debates before the last general election, back in 2010, which had three participants. Two of these were the smooth, slick and vacuous David Cameron, Tory leader, and the similarly smooth, slick and vacuous Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader; who, if they hadn’t been cloned using genetic material scraped off Tony Blair’s bum, had certainly been grown in vats in a scientific laboratory according to the same Blair recipe. The third was the hapless then-Prime Minister and then-Labour leader, Gordon Brown, who by that point was so rumpled and exhausted-looking that the comedian Frankie Boyle was prompted to compare Brown’s face to a testicle.
Clegg, incidentally, was acclaimed as the star of those debates. So impressive was his performance that that bastion of left-wing thought in Britain, the Guardian newspaper, was moved to endorse his Liberal Democrat party just before the general election. And what happened? Clegg promptly formed a coalition with Cameron and for the five years since has kept the latter’s nasty, unemployed-bashing, immigrant-baiting party in power. Happily, though, it looks like Clegg will pay belatedly for his sins. All decent-minded people who voted for his party last time have been so disgusted by his crawling into bed with the Tories that the Liberal Democrats are likely to be decimated at the forthcoming election.
Do you hear that, you Liberal Democrats out there? You’re all going to die. Ha-ha!
Anyway, election fever is in the air again. And so politicians, broadcasters and political pundits have been speculating about the format of the next televised leaders’ debates. For a long time, it looked like there’d be four participants. Those two slick, smooth, etc. Tony-bots, Cameron and Clegg, would be back of course, making excuses for the all the right-wing evil they’ve perpetrated over the last half-decade. Representing the Labour Party this time would be the gimpy Ed Miliband, a man for whom even the very basics of human behaviour – e.g. looking normal whilst eating a bacon sandwich – do not come easily. And as a bonus, we’d have the presence of the United Kingdom Independence Party leader, that extremist pint-swigging, fag-puffing barroom-bore bawbag, Nigel Farage.
The prospect of this filled me with no excitement whatever. I’m sure it caused no excitement either amongst millions of other members of the British public. All four leaders are cut from the same drearily-predictable cloth. All are inclined towards right-wing policies; ranging from Farage’s loony far-right ones to Miliband’s right-of-centre ones. (Miliband’s Labour Party is terrified both of losing voters to UKIP and of being portrayed by the Tories as ‘weak on the economy’; with the result that much of its modern rhetoric is far removed from the policies that the traditional ‘People’s Party’ was supposed to be about.)
All four are white, male, middle-aged, middle-to-upper class and from the southeast of England (Berkshire, Camden, Buckinghamshire, Kent). All four are from privileged backgrounds and three of them were educated at Oxford University (Cameron, Miliband) or Cambridge University (Clegg). What experience of working life Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have is limited to the political world and / or to its symbiotic professions (lobbying, policy research, speech-writing and, in Miliband’s case, teaching a course called What’s Left? The Politics of Social Justice at Harvard University).
Meanwhile, Farage, with his pint, fag, etc., likes to bang on about being a man of the people. But before and after helping to found UKIP he worked in the City, first with the brokerage firm Drexel Burnham Lambert, and then with Credit Lyonnais Rouse, Refco and Natexis Metals. If that makes him anti-establishment… Well, then, I’m going to be the next Pope.
However, the broadcasters have just announced – to the astonishment, bemusement and scorn of many politicians and journalists operating within the London-based ‘Westminster Bubble’ – that two of the three debates will be opened out. There won’t be four leaders participating in these two debates, but seven. In addition to Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and Farage, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon – who is coincidentally the current First Minister of Scotland – and Green Party of England and Wales leader Natalie Bennett will be invited.
While there’s been a lot of discussion about how the logistics of a seven-leader debate would work, there hasn’t been – in mainstream media outlets, at least – much mention of the most appealing feature of such a set-up: the introduction of some variety to the proceedings. Instead of an all-male line-up there’ll be almost a fifty-fifty split between males and females. And now there’ll be people presenting a slightly different political narrative – left-wing or left-of-centre policies as well as right-wing ones.
And the stenches of privilege and political careerism will be slightly less overwhelming. Leanne Wood was educated at Tonypandy Comprehensive School and the University of Glamorgan, Afterwards she worked as a probation officer and later as a support worker for Cwn Cynon Women’s Aid. Nicola Sturgeon attended another state school, Greenwood Academy, and then the University of Glasgow. Although she served as a lawyer for a time, her beat was hardly a comfy middle-class one: she worked in Drumchapel in Glasgow. Bennett is from Sydney and has spent years knocking around the world as a journalist, including spending a stint at the Bangkok Post. Plus it’ll be nice to hear those well-to-do south-eastern accents interspersed with some other ones: Welsh, Scottish and Australian.
The arrival of Wood, Sturgeon and Bennett has potentially saved those leaders’ debates from tedium. If variety is the spice of life, then the debates in their originally-touted four-leader format sounded like they’d be as spicy as a dollop of cold porridge.
Actually, they sounded like they’d be as appetising as a dollop of cold vomit.