An election debate - no thanks


Sky News proposes a televised election debate between the three main party leaders, They have written to them, saying that if anyone declines, the debate will go on with an empty chair. That would make them seem frit (if the equal-time laws didn't thwart the plan).

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have jumped at the chance to debate. They have everything to gain from more TV exposure, of course. No answer yet from Gordon Brown, though: he has nothing to gain from bringing himself down from the level of statesman to that of mere candidate. He does not want a debate.

The odd thing is, neither do I. Politicians know that they have to re-connect with the public, but if they think that pontificating on TV will achieve that, they have seriously misunderstood the problem. A TV debate would just reinforce the presidential style of politics that has grown up in the UK. We are not voting for the head of an Executive Branch as the Americans do when they vote for a President. We are voting for Members of Parliament – who are there not just to represent us, but to protect us from a powerful Executive.

A debate would further bolster the role of Downing Street, with all the centralization of power which that entails, at the expense of an already weakened Parliament. The Prime Minister has much of the power that George III did. We ought to be stripping that power away, not boosting it by setting our party leaders up as if they were modern kings. We should be glad to have a majority party that was well managed by an effective leader, however mild-mannered or self-effacing. If the test is that the majority leader has to be a presidential-style superstar whom everyone fawns over, then we have little chance of re-gaining the liberties that the centralization of Executive power have already taken from us.