thank you for your question

The time is two o’clock in the morning, the place is CSPAN, and the topic for discussion is Barack Obama mumbling and stuttering like teenagers embarking on the school’s production of Hamlet. Or public park chatting up of other teenagers. It was nervous, however you want to call it, and as every line he was supposed to say to his soon-to-be defeated opponent Mitt Romney had been rehearsed thousands of times before hand, this was not the act we had expected.

And that word ‘act’ is the problem. Leaders debates in the US remain by means of tradition and one-upmanship, not by means of democratic accountability for the President or his opponent. Everyone knows this – the television companies, the candidates, the viewers. It’s the same complicity which keeps Eurovision on television every year, for roundabout the same results. When the UK experimented with them for the first time in 2010, the result was an inflated, Internet-driven Cleggmania (oh how sweetly does nostalgia paint that recollection), and ultimately the first election result since February 1974 at which the talking heads of the good ship BBC declared, “The people have spoken, but we’re not entirely sure what they’ve said.”

My opinions towards leadership debates have undoubtedly hardened, and they’re undisputedly negative. The great breakthrough in the UK brought no tangible results. We got some new memes for messageboards and Twitter – “I agree with Nick”, “That’s a good question, Elaine”, and  “I met a one-legged black sailor in Brighton who promised he could get me some crack if I followed him just a little bit further, not long now, just about here,  not there, around the corner, he definitely said seventy quid, don’t follow him until I hear the sound of a car engine revving”.
There wasn’t any more great revelation during the three prime-time debates than we’ve experienced in any modern election campaign. It was more Kinnock on the beach than “Yes We Can.” Having convinced the party machines that another sprinkle of American political magic would work over here, the media were handcuffed to them regardless of results. When those results deflated like  a souflee in a cupboard, nobody could be blamed outside the television executives’ plush offices. Mary Berry would not be best pleased; as in the US, we ended up whipping up the batter too lightly and cooking the recipe on too low a heat. Nick Clegg wasn’t responsible for “I agree with Nick,” that was a cack-handed flirtation technique passed on like notes in a classroom, just with notes the size of novelty cheques for the whole country to see.

If the current trajectory of the Coalition continues to head euro-like into a ditch, and then through the ditch into the engine room at the middle of the Earth installed by the Daleks during their battle with Peter Cushing, leaders debates in 2015 would be even less advisable than David Cameron appearing on Celebrity Masterchef. We know the three leaders too well, now, and their traits are no good for that format. Clegg hasn’t lessened his tendency to meander through sentences as though soundbites don’t matter, Miliband is such a dorky policy wonk that he can memorise one-hour speeches like a borderline autistic man on You Bet!, and Cameron is angrier than Stuart Pearson and The Fucker combined. It wouldn’t be edifying or constructive to watch them try to battle it out on primetime ITV 1 any more than it’s enjoyable watching former boyband members sticking a spiders nest in their eyes or whatever they do on X-Factor these days to keep the viewers away from Strictly.

This is not me saying the political parties have a duty to reverse back to the 1950s and all that “Do you have any more questions you’d like me to ask, Prime Minister?” There are far more natural ways to question our leaders, in a context more natural to the United Kingdom. There’s the annual Paxman Run, for example, at which all former leaders have tended to only just scrape a pass. Michael Gove wouldn’t stand for that level of disappointing failure. There’s the soft sofa shuffle, against which Cameron came unstuck against a former Blue Peter presenter (“How do you sleep at night?”) and Blair managed to implicate himself in yet more Iraq nonsense (“If there wasn’t any WMDs, I’d have just invented another reason, Fern. Now, back to the sponge cake which as you can see here has been resting for a few minutes….”)
I’ve no doubt that the legal minds at the respective HQs of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP are already forming a joint action against the media companies hoping for a repeat of 2010 in April 2015. If they manage to scupper the debates for good, rejoice. There’s enough reality television in politics without our leaders turning into contestants on Million Pound Drop. I’m devoted far more than normal people should be towards accountability, democratic renewal and electoral reform, but putting our political leaders into contrived Q&A sessions where Downton Abbey should be is an experiment I don’t fancy repeating. Like hair gel, or reading the Observer or using my left hand….
TO WRITE WITH.
                           

Norwich North – analysis pornography

The by-election result in Norwich North, an election won by the Conservative Chloe Smith following the somewhat forced resignation of Ian Gibson, was blogged and tweeted endlessly throughout the day. I have my own analysis at the end of this blog, but to begin with (although some posts on blogs may well be “trolls” but…) here are some of the current blog comments;

The magnitude of this defeat shows that this was more than just a protest vote and it was more than simply a reaction to the expenses crises – that excuse did not wash after June 4 and it will not wash this time.No, a swing of this proportion – not unlike the one to Labour in the Wirral in 1997 – is a sign of embedded culture change. It shows that the country is ready and willing – if not craving – to vote for a Tory government in substantial numbers.”Alex Smith”LabourList

If, with the government having screwed up the economy for a generation, lead us into the Iraq war and not winning in Afghanistan, got unpopular personnel at the top, were worst offenders on expenses etc and we still can’t beat them, we should be very afraid for the GE. (“Simon R” LibDemVoice)

This was an average by-election & doesnt tell us much except to confirm the softness of the Tory vote & the potential for Labours to collapse. Looking at all the evidence I still see no signs of a Conservative landslide(“plumbus”LibDemVoice

It is utterly astonishing that we were not able to show the electorate what a disgusting sham the Conservatives are on expenses – not having sacked the three ‘flipping’ front-benchers – on top of their overall lack of any policies whatsoever. “RobertC”LibDemVoice

As someone who welcomed a Labour victory in 1997 the wheel has turned full circle and most of us are eagerly anticipating a similarly spectacular comeuppance for you in 2010.”Andrew Webber” LabourList

As for Labour and its future, it certainly doesn’t look good, but I do warn my party not to get carried away with this result. It is tremendous yes, but there is still along way to go to reach government again. “Scott Carlton”ConservativeHome

The result will be recorded in history as a Conservative Gain, leaving the acres of analysis and comment to the archives. Something does need to be said about each of the party performances in turn, not least because this was the first opportunity given to voters to comment on the expenses scandal. Clearly voters who felt that Labour’s “star chamber” had pushed Ian Gibson out for the sake of looking reactive to the expenses mess had their say in capital letters.

I would liked to have seen a better result from April Pond, the Liberal Democrat candidate. Our by-election machine has clearly not been working properly for some time now, as seen in Crewe & Nantwich and now Norwich North. The Focus newsletter onslaughts may need to be re-evaluated, not least the infamous bar-charts showing distorted statistics. Electorates may have fallen for this in the past; the results recently suggest limited returns on such “old standbys”.

Labour have tried clutching at straws since the result was announced, it was like watching a badly written character in an otherwise good play. This seat should not have been lost, but once again a complacent and lazy Labour party have been shown more than just a scant disregard from voters. It is not enough to say that Gordon Brown is working terribly hard on the matters of the day – on June 4th, and now again, his actions have been commented upon in shouts of derison. The country is exhausted with Labour’s destruction of everything it touches: we need Gordon Brown out of office, and a general election held immediately.

UKIP and Green supporters are very happy, and so they should be. Both parties recorded their best ever by-election results. UKIP are probably still riding the high-tide from the European Elections, although continued high results like this could suggest that they really are setting themselves in a position as Britain’s “alternative conservative”. Green Party supporters may have hoped for better than fifth after topping Norwich last month, but to get 10% in this part of the country is nevertheless an encouraging sign.

Now for the also-rans. Craig Murray wanted to “put an honest man in parliament”; his blog suggests he had difficulty in asking the BBC to give him air time and problems with the Post Office regarding his election DVD as standard election communication. To go from a standing start in an election like this, with a media like ours, was always going to be difficult, although some of Murray’s blog posts suggest he has a tendency to make overblown conclusions from simple affairs.

The BNP did very badly. Which is a good thing.

The Libertarian Party made their debut, following months of blogosphere hype, getting less than 40 votes. Just thirty-six. An absolute disaster from a bunch who claimed to be the next big thing in politics.

Bill Holden (independent), Peter Baggs (independent), and Anne Fryatt (NOTA), scored very badly too. Traditional protest vote candidate Alan Hope from the Loonies got only 144, a sign perhaps that even this group have run out of voters.

For this election to have any long-term significance, it needs to be the rock that falls squarely on the roof of Labour as it crashes down the mountain. There is always talk of “Brown’s last chance”: for this to be a genuine observation Brown needs to realise the level to which his party has fallen in popularity. His governance is laughable, his party exhausted, his standing snake-belly low. Norwich North will be spun by Labour’s robotic loyalists as “just one of those things”. Had they any idea of the real world they would be preparing their general election literature and brushing off their CVs.