Leaders debate what exactly?

Oscar To


Leaders debate

Thursday saw the first ever seven member leadership debate in the United Kingdom televised on ITV. Due to recent developments in the electoral landscape, where the two party system that so characterises our democracy has come into doubt, it has been warranted that listening to opinions other than the Westminster consensus is now practicable for the public at large.

The three monoliths of Westminster; Labour, Tories, Lib Dems were joined by four outside parties vying for seats in government; the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the one man party that is UKIP. The debate allowed each leader to submit an opening and closing statement and four (carefully selected) questions were posed by the audience for leaders to answer and then ‘debate’ amongst (or rather against) themselves.

The two hours were a positively thrilling spectacle of sweaty backstabbing and bickering; the sorts had remained unseen since my days in primary school. In an age where media campaigns act as the best determinant of public opinion, rather than the onus of actual capacity from our ‘leaders’, it was enlightening to see them placed under the tension of live unedited television.

Due to rather blatant manoeuvring by the Conservative Party, there has been no direct debate between the contenders of the prime ministerial throne; Ed Miliband and David Cameron. Hence the main throng of their offenses were aimed at derailing one another in this chaotic battlefield.

Ed Miliband took the initiative in pushing forward his policy ideas for the future of the United Kingdom with policy seeming to punctate each of his sentences. Miliband was never going to be able to avoid his media image of being awkward and odd, but it is clear that he can at least say what his party wants to achieve, something the media usually ignores for tales of bacon sandwiches. Ed also managed some strong shots at Cameron, especially on failings in the European Union where he managed to secure only a single supporting vote against 26.

David Cameron on the other hand could have easily been replaced with a tape recording with his only salient point being to repeat the dogged mantra of ‘follow the long term economic plan, follow the long term economic plan, follow the long term economic plan, follow..’ A statement that only reflects the gauche orthodoxy of the Conservative Party as they quest to go back in time to Victorian Britain. But you know, that’s fine because rich people had no tax back then. Cameron did however, manage to annoy one audience member enough that she decided to start heckling, especially impressive consider the lack of variation in anything he said.

Nick Clegg, who appeared to have become Cameron’s aide for the past five years appeared to be atoning to the general public for forgiveness for the sins he had committed in government. There were charged attacks against Cameron, with the coalition partner seemingly changing form from poodle to Chihuahua. Perhaps, if Clegg had stirred up this kind of fuss earlier in the coalition, his party wouldn’t be facing near obliteration in the general election. That he stirred such a fuss towards policy also made it seem as if he was not part of government for the past five years, a fact no one is pretending to have forgotten.

Nonetheless, the other leaders were not just to leave this as a two horse race, with a highland charge led by Nicola Sturgeon in securing strategic victories against both as well as outmanoeuvring Farage in the dreaded ‘banter’. Sturgeon came off as diplomatic, emphasising her differences with Labour whilst still showing support that they could work together. Overall, Sturgeon gave a strong performance far surpassing the other leaders, rising above the squabbling whilst still giving her vision of the future.

Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru predominantly aimed her attacks at Labour who formed their main opposition in Wales. Whilst at times, a bit quiet, she succeeded in painting Wales, quite rightly, as an ignored and impoverished part of the UK. It seems that Wood was pushing for votes to ensure that Welsh ministers were not simply treated like another branch of the Labour office much as complaints against Scottish Labour have been raised.

As leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett provided a somewhat modest performance. She gave some strong points such as bringing up the Syrian refugee crisis as well as highlighting that housing and employment problems were issues of failed governments and not of immigrants. However, these salient points lacked punch, not from to the truths they espoused but due to Bennett’s lack of skill as an orator. If facts won the day, Bennett would be a strong contender but this was a gladiatorial arena that needed gusto.

There was also that other man Nigel Farage, who did his best to bring to attention to everyone that immigrants are indeed plotting to destroy the United Kingdom. Nigel’s pressured speech and general hyperactive demeanour gave the impression that, alongside his sweatiness and lack of outer third of his eyebrows, that he was in fact, suffering from hyperthyroidism. As the head of a party with policy akin to the reliability of a truant schoolchild, Farage was able to mix and match policy as he wished, trying to wrongfoot every leader. I was impressed by how Farage managed to make immigration a problem for everything; it takes a truly warped and twisted mind to create the connections that he had made. Highlights include blaming the breakdown of the NHS on health tourists with HIV. Thankfully Leanne Wood was able to point out that immigrants are in fact people; a fact that much of the population appear to have forgotten.

Overall, the debate was filled politicians shooting statistics out of their mouths. These obviously have the potential to be made up, as one audience member incensed. If politicians had to cite their statements, the nature of the whole affair would’ve been fundamentally different. In the end, the debate was fundamentally a battle of personalities and not of facts.

And of course, that due to personal bias, the majority of people will already have made their minds up over who will have won this debate prior to it ever airing. Nonetheless, by comparing to how leaders would be expected to do based on the polls, we can see that two leaders did disproportionately well. These are Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon who polled at approximately equivalent to Ed Miliband and David Cameron. This can only really be described as a triumph for the SNP as a local party that only captures 4% of the national vote.

Nonetheless, the real winners of the debate were women and the smaller parties. They presented a united front against austerity, focusing on human aspects of communities rather than the simple cold mathematics that the other leaders produced. Most of all, these women managed to produce a true vision of change for the United Kingdom, targeting not other parties in meaningless tit for tat tirades but foreign points of policy such as social justice and redistribution. These women showed us a face of politics today that we have not seen in the Westminster bubble. They have shown us what change can look like. It is time we let them make it.

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