Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Would it be a tragedy if there were no televised election debates?
The broadcasters are struggling to arrive at fair arrangements for leaders' debates in next year's general election and risk being snookered by the realities of multi-party politics and threats of legal action.
But would it be such a tragedy if there were no debates?
Many argue that the 2010 debates were a breakthrough and interested new people in politics.
But the most striking thing about those debates was the way that all three party leaders avoided talking about what the secretly regarded as the biggest issue facing the country.
Because there was barely a mention of the public-sector deficit - and even fewer of the tax rises and spending cuts that would be needed to reduce it.
So while the debates were certainly a novelty, it is hard to argue that there content was a revelation.
And from a partisan Liberal Democrat position, Nick Clegg will never be able to repeat the impact he made in the first debate in 2010.
You can even argue that Cleggmania (that short-lived phenomenon) ultimately harmed the Lib Dems. The breakdown in our targeting strategy as more and more constituencies dreamt of victory meant that a small increase in our vote actually resulted in a loss of seats.
So I should not be too concerned if there were no leaders' debates in 2015.
And there is a precedent from over the Atlantic.
Everyone knows the 1960 debates where JFK bested Richard Nixon. But far fewer realise that there were no televised debates in the US after that until 1976, when both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter judged that they needed more exposure and so agreed to debate.