Like international cricket in recent years, UK General Elections have changed massively. Given the controversial decision to hold three debates between the major party leaders, the focus of this General Election is no longer on the ‘stump’ - famously illustrated by Gladstone’s West Lothian campaign or, in 1992, by John Major’s soapbox. This campaign is very different, dominated by the three debates – the last of which will be held on Thursday.
Every word and body language movement in these debates is scrutinised ad nauseam. For many, it is soap opera politics and akin to a Westminster version of The X Factor. Aside from the three party leaders, few other politicians have had any real look-in. Where is William Hague for example?
The morning press conferences have now lost much of their bite and the importance of the one-to-one TV interviews have faded - short of a major gaffe. Whilst many welcome the three leaders’ debates, this Election has clearly suffered on two counts.
First, there is relatively little emphasis on policy. Given a Public Sector Net Borrowing figure of £163 billion, it is unacceptable that no political party is prepared to set out in detail how it would deal with the dreadful state of the UK’s public finances, although the Liberal Democrats have made some effort to do so.
Secondly, given the ever-increasing move to personality and, above all, to appearance, does it mean that eventually in UK General Elections only individuals with film star looks can lead their party? Admittedly, he – or she – may need to be briefed to the eyeballs, to avoid any gaffe.
Perhaps, the election of President Reagan heralded the future for UK political leaders – film star looks, excellent delivery and no obvious visual negatives will be paramount. Our leaders, too, are now far younger. A sad conclusion?