Time for a heated, televised debate?

by Stephen Tall on July 29, 2009

De facto Deputy Prime Minister Lord (Peter) Mandelson has hinted that his boss might be ready to debate Nick Clegg and David Cameron in the run-up to the general election. The London Evening Standard has the story:

In an exclusive interview, the Prime Minister’s most powerful ally suggested that Mr Brown would become the first incumbent of No10 to agree to the idea.

“I don’t think Gordon would have a problem with that,” he said. “While Cameron is good with words, he doesn’t have the ideas or policies to back them. I think people would see through the smile.

“The more the public sees of them, the more they’d realise that Gordon is the man with the substance.” …

A TV debate would expose the Tory leader’s weaknesses, he argued. “Cameron lacks substance and he might come across as someone who exudes effortless superiority in public, but loses his rag in private.”

It would be highly risky for Mr Brown to agree. Tony Blair and John Major both refused to give their opponents the chance to score points on live TV. In America, such candidates’ debates are a fixture and President Barack Obama’s strong, calm performance was key to winning the trust of voters.

Nick Clegg’s office has welcomed the idea:

The Liberal Democrats would welcome a televised debate with the other two leaders. Since he became leader Nick Clegg has been taking part in open town hall meetings around the country and we look forward to giving people the chance to see who really has the vision for a fairer country.

“Open debates are good for politics and good for the public. Anything that inspires more people to get out and vote should be encouraged.”

But alas it seems as if Lord Mandelson might have mis-spoken – The Times reports:

WIthin the hour, however, Downing St was throwing cold water on the story. The Prime Minister’s political spokesman insisted that Mr Brown had not dropped his opposition to going to head to head with Mr Cameron during the campaign next year.

So that’s that, then. Perhaps.

For all that liberals might feel uncomfortable with the idea of an increasingly presidential style of government, it does seem wholly archaic that the three main party leaders should not debate with each other during a general election campaign.

I’m not convinced it would excite the public that much, nor that it would increase turn-out. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right and obvious thing to do.

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Couldn’t Cameron and Clegg say “fine, we’ll do it without you” and make themselves available one evening? The invite would always be open to Brown, and if he doesn’t show up, that’s his decision.

Now it might be that broadcasters feel they are unable to host this debate due to their impartiality remit. But a newspaper without these commitments could host an online live debate with streaming video. This would be a big win for both the Conservatives and Lib Dems, whether or not Brown begrudgingly took part.

by Duncan Stott on July 29, 2009 at 3:07 pm. Reply #

There are four main party leaders in Scotland and Wales which adds another dimension to the impartiality remit of the broadcasters.

Brown will never bite anyway.

Regards

by Fred Behr on July 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm. Reply #

“For all that liberals might feel uncomfortable with the idea of an increasingly presidential style of government”

Why on earth should liberals be uncomfortable about that? Presidential government is actually chosen by the people. It’s voted on. It has oversight and scrutiny. Prime Ministerial government is what’s uncomfortable – a system in which several questions are bound up together, the PM is directly chosen by an electorate of a mere ~80,000 followed by an electoral college of 650, and a majority of those supposed to be scrutinising the executive are guaranteed to have a vested interest in not doing so.

As Jon Snow quite correctly points out, what’s really needed here is to Directly Elect the Prime Minister

by Greg on July 29, 2009 at 11:12 pm. Reply #

“Why on earth should liberals be uncomfortable about that?”

Because liberals are generally suspicious of concentrating too much power in any one individual.

by Stephen Tall on July 30, 2009 at 12:04 am. Reply #

Not sure when it changed, but I like the new website design!

I think this is a really good idea, because it makes politics into more of a spectacle for the public. Millions and millions tune in to the US presidential debates (even in this country) and they work to show the candidates in comparison to each other.

I agree with the problem that this might cause too much focus to be on the individual politician rather than his party or his policies. One of my dislikes about the US is that its political parties often have very little to really do with the overall leader. In the UK, the overall leader (the PM) has far less power than that – can we really afford to pretend that they have more for the sake of spectacle?

by Huw Dawson on July 30, 2009 at 12:22 am. Reply #

“De facto Deputy Prime Minister Lord (Peter) Mandelson has hinted that his boss might be ready to debate Nick Clegg and David Cameron in the run-up to the general election. The London Evening Standard has the story:

In an exclusive interview, the Prime Minister’s most powerful ally suggested that Mr Brown would become the first incumbent of No10 to agree to the idea.”

Oh dear. There you go again. In fact, the Standard doesn’t so much as mention Nick Clegg.

You removed the first sentence of the report to disguise the fact that the “idea” Brown may agree to is “A presidential-style TV debate between Gordon Brown and David Cameron”.

I suppose I’ll now be treated to another little lecture about my “remarkable” paranoia. And it will be explained that the removal of the bit that explained what the whole report was about was purely for copyright reasons and/or because it was just “rhetorical”.

by Herbert Brown on July 30, 2009 at 1:01 am. Reply #

Our current Prime Ministerial system focuses far more power in any one individual than any system need, and than many Presidential systems do. An American President, for example, would give their hind teeth for law making powers (held by a Congress with its own mind at the best of times), or the input on internal laws and decisions (often made by state legislatures which jealously guard their privileges) held by a British Prime Minister. Our current system, which focuses all of that power in No 10, with none of the oversight, accountability, or scrutiny present in a Presidential system, is dramatically a more dangerous thing.

(And yes, there are of course Presidential systems that are worse, hence noting that any system ‘need’. Russian Prime Ministerialism is currently even worse than our own, Russian Presidentialism having been so until a year or so back)

by Greg on July 30, 2009 at 1:03 am. Reply #

“Because liberals are generally suspicious of concentrating too much power in any one individual.”

Stephen, the only difference between parliamentary and presidential systems of governance, is that in a parliamentary system, the executive is drawn from the legislature , whereas in a presidential system, the executive is completely separate from the legislature.

So there is no difference in powers held by the executive in the two systems. While in the US, Congress declares war, and in our country, the Prime Minister on behalf of the monarch declares war, that is not a difference between the two different forms of government, as there’s nothing stopping there being a president with the ability to declare war.

So the only proper difference is separation of powers. And since you say that liberals should be suspicious of too much power being in one individual, then liberals should be suspicious of the parliamentary form of government.

Could you imagine Bush or Obama etc, AND their cabinet (along with not being vetted like ours isn’t) sitting in Congress? STV is only half the solution to curbing executive power.

by Alex on July 30, 2009 at 3:21 am. Reply #

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