We at Altitude Towers have been discussing the value of debate recently. Nothing beats a good debate. The ability to put across a reasoned, logically-constructed case, to win over an audience and to impose the strength of your reasoning to the point of persuasion, is a skill indeed. It is a competence that benefits an individual throughout his or her life, whether it is in the playground, in a work situation or just chatting footy down the pub. It’s a skill that should be cultivated and which is sadly not exercised widely enough in our schools and colleges.
So why am I so dreading the prospect of three televised debates between the party leaders prior to the general election?
Many respected media commentators (and Nicky Campbell) have labelled the coming general election as the most important for years. (It’s certainly the most important in the last four years). The implication is that our votes will be more momentous because they will return a Government tasked with delivering economic recovery. It’s also a barometer election for the minority parties, with the Green Party standing a real chance of returning their first MP and the BNP looking to woo disaffected voters from across the political spectrum.
So, when a normally disengaged voting public has every reason to focus properly on the policies of all parties, why give it an excuse to ignore policies and the wider campaign and to make their (apparently) most important electoral decision for years on the basis of a nicer tie, a sharper performance on the night or better-prepared sound bites. It is said that Kennedy “won” the first televised US debate against Nixon because the Republican looked drawn and ashen following recent hospitalisation and the wrong shade of suit. Do we really want this election to be decided on Gordon Brown’s uncomfortable smile, David Cameron’s shiny forehead or the fact that most of the public will now know what Nick Clegg looks like?
The televised sparring will simply give an apathetic public an easy get-out, rather than engage them in the more substantive debates that will take place outside the television studios.
The very essence of the art of debating is diminished when the chance to land an easy punch in front of a larger audience becomes more desirable than expounding your case and informing people along the way.
Debate – and politics – is once again losing out for the sake of supposedly “good telly”.