Common sense – perhaps even a sense of fun – won through yesterday, as MPs protected the only guaranteed entertainment of general election. Facing proposals to keep ballot boxes shut overnight and to commence the counting of ballot papers the next morning (it would save money, apparently), our elected representatives opted to amend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to ensure that the counting of votes will carry on through the night.
In doing so, they have perhaps recognised that at least some sections of a public often generally so apathetic towards politics, find election night quite a thrill. In an earlier blog (Watching the party leaders’ mass-debate), I criticised the idea of television debates. I stick by that but cannot deny that they will add some spice to the campaign. And the same applies to watching the results come in through the night and into the morning, and the forthcoming election could produce some dramatic moments to rival those of 1997.
Anyone devoted enough to stay up and watch the results come in deserves something for their efforts. Being able to say “I saw the Portillo moment” in 1997 was fine reward for those devoted enough to stay up for it. Where better to witness such a moment than at Labour’s official election night party at the Royal Festival Hall on huge screens, surrounded by triumphant young politicos who felt that they were part of a huge transformation of their country? And that’s exactly where I was…
Which compounds the regret and embarrassment I feel at having completely missed the most talked about moment of a historic night, having been taken ‘tired’ in that venue’s facilities. I was, in more ways than one, out for the count. This probably explains why I’m so excited to get the chance to make amends. MPs have given me another chance. No falling asleep this time – I know it sounds nerdy, but democracy can be fun!
Parliament will today debate Gordon Brown’s proposals to hold a referendum on voting reform. In 1975, Callaghan described the referendum on EEC membership as a “rubber life raft into which the whole party would have to climb”. Perhaps Gordon Brown thinks that he can craft his own lifeboat with electoral reform, reviving his chances at the polls.
But is it good use of parliamentary time? Other legislation currently going through Parliament may be sacrificed for it, yet ask the average voter about voting reform and he/she will probably conclude (unfairly) that it doesn’t matter how we elect them, they’ll all be on the make anyway.
Whenever a referendum is suggested, I am baffled. Election turnouts are depressingly low. Why demonstrate further the disengagement of the electorate by asking them to vote on something they either don’t understand to a level of detail that enables informed choices or, more likely, don’t care about?
In this case, I suppose it’s about demonstrating democracy. Giving the people the chance to vote on how they can vote. A democratic double whammy!
Faced with this democratic gambit, David Cameron has responded with… er, petitions. The Conservative leader has said that under a Tory government, any petition signed by more than 100,000 people would guarantee a debate in the House of Commons. One million or more signatures would win you the right to put a Bill before Parliament. UKIP must be licking their lips.
I fear that the idea may have been prompted by Facebook groups (“If 100,000 people join my group MPs must decide who is hotter: Kylie or Danni”*). Petitions will simply encourage further trivialisation of politics and waste even more parliamentary time.
We have a parliamentary system quite capable of delivering good government. What we lack is the public’s trust in that system or in politicians. Cheap imitations of democracy won’t change that and, worse still, is a waste of our time and of Parliament’s time.
* The answer is Kylie.
Posted in democracy, Government, Politics
Tagged Conservative, David Cameron, democracy, electoral reform, Gordon Brown, Government, House of Commons, Kylie, Labour, Parliament, referendum, Tory, UKIP, voting
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”.
Posted in Politics
Tagged Altitude, Conservative, David Cameron, electoral, general election, Gordon Brown, Government, Green Party, Labour, media, Nick Clegg, policies, televised debate, votes, voting