TV debates

October 15, 2004 ,

YOU would have to be a political anorak and an insomniac to have stayed up to watch the U.S. Presidential debates.

I am probably the former, but the requirement of sleep stopped me from staying up into the wee hours to see the three Bush vs. Kerry tussles.

The first televised debate of this kind took place in 1960, when John Kennedy for the Democrats faced up to Richard Nixon, who was the Republican Vice-President at the time.

It has become the accepted wisdom that Kennedy won the debate, and the subsequent tight election race, because Nixon refused to wear make-up and looked like he was unshaven, sweaty and shifty.

Given Nixon’s later resignation over Watergate perhaps the camera didn’t lie in his case.

Inevitably these debates raise the question of whether we should also have televised debates between the Party leaders in this country at the General Election.

It would of course be more complicated in Britain.
There would be 3 participants instead of two, Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy.
What would be done about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with Plaid Cymru, the Scottish Nationalists and various Irish parties?
In addition we don’t directly elect the Prime Minister at a General Election.
We elect local constituency MPs, from whom the Prime Minister is chosen.
Politics is already over personalised, and such debates might be seen as marginalising the importance of parliament.

Anyway, we already have a televised weekly clash at Prime Minister’s question time, which former President Bill Clinton said he was glad he never had to face in the USA.

Nevertheless, some press reports suggest that the Prime Minister might agree to such a debate at the forthcoming election.
It’s unlikely, but if he did I’m sure all the leaders would make sure they were wearing their make-up!