There’s a fascinating article by Camilla Cavendish in today’s Times in which the pros and cons of a presidential style of leadership could be applied to the British electoral system. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real cabinet government, I think you could maybe argue that Sir John Major had one – but that was through his acknowledged electoral weaknesses and the disintegrating Tory party rather than by choice. Thatcher, Blair and Brown have all lead from the front: it’s been their ethos, their vision that have defined for better or worse the direction of the nation.
So would we be better voting for a leader and an office and having the checks and balances of an upper and lower house deciding – would it encourage real people with life experience to stand up and be part of our political system, or would it encourage dynasties of politically elite families? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the public haven’t voted for a party for a long time: I voted for Blair or Thatcher is what you hear on the doorstep, you don’t hear the parties and most people couldn’t name the cabinet or shadow cabinet, let alone assign the departments to the people.
The TV debates of this General Election have in my opinion put the final nail in the coffin of Cabinet government, the final swirl of confusion between the party and the person if you like – and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that with a change of system? I’m not sure it’d make any difference; if the American system is anything to go by the political class in the UK wouldn’t have the patience to put up with lame ducks, filibustering, and shady deals done behind closed doors – but then, with the amount of political apathy that seems to be on display between those that aren’t tied to their tribal camp, you have to wonder whether anyone would really notice a change.
We’re now in the final few days before what I consider to be the most important election in my lifetime: the choice is clear – more of the same, a slow slide toward authoritarian big state dragging out society toward economic and social failure, or two very different choices that are at the same time almost the same. You see the problem with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is that there’s stuff in both their manifesto’s that I like and dislike in equal measure – It’s going to be a difficult one, but I think the military family history and the entrepreneur in me will keep my vote in the Conservative box: I just hope that Cameron now comes good on his big liberal society promises, and finally answers the parties European issues.
The one thing you can expect, is that this week is going to be dirty – people are going to be spinning and smearing all week: it’s going to be vicious: I think I’ll be down at Haymarket’s Sports Café for live coverage until dawn – either that or stuck in the office with pizza and beer cheering Blinky Balls getting his arse kicked.
Tonight we had the “final” leaders debate, which of course is the final televised debate before the really important debate when the British public step forward with their voice – and it was unsurprisingly a clear win for Cameron, closely followed by Clegg with Brown a dead third.
What interests me is that after 15 years of hearing about ‘the nasty party’ all three leaders were portraying their parties in the voice of ‘the nasty party’, tough on crime, immigration, tax-dodging, anti-europe – they were all at it, they couldn’t be tougher, it was like watching 3 lads in the street after a drunken night out: all sizing each other up before a fight, but all playing more mouth than trousers.
Whatever happened to the liberal Tory big society, the pro euro cannabis friendly Liberals, or the entirely laissez faire attitude of the Labour party to immigration, crime, schooling, public spending… They talked tough, and the people liked it – it’s very strange that our society which for 95% of the time seems to be fundamentally liberal and open to cultures new and old battens down the hatches during an election preferring to hear tough messages from all the parties rather than hearing the progressive voice that they bask in for most of the rest of the year. The voting public can be described as nothing other than fickle.
It’s one of the first things we tell people in media training whenever we’re asked to do it – it doesn’t matter how well you know the hack, it doesn’t matter how quiet you think you can do it, it doesn’t matter how flippant your remark might be, the open mic of the news media is guaranteed to pick it up.
So to see such a huge cock up today, from a seasoned political operator, clinging to power desperate to stop his party not just losing power, but losing the right to form the official opposition was stunning. To call a voter you’ve just patted on the back a bigot for asking questions (which incidentally weren’t in my opinion bigoted at all – just concerned) is naive beyond belief.
Of course, behind a closed fader or a slammed phone or door, we’ve all said what’s on our minds – “tosser” is my favourite insult to hurl – but in the middle of an election, to someone that you’d probably just won around to your side again, an easy win – jesus. Brown was right, it was a disaster!
In between the chuckles and gawping at the slow-motion car crash that unfolded all afternoon, Brown made his appearance in a radio studio and looked like a broken man, head practically on the table, perhaps the funniest part of that interview wasn’t shown much after the initial live encounter: when challenged on losing the election, he chucked his head and arms back and rolled his eyes so hard he looked like he might damage himself. It was a tragic display from a broken man, and a broken party – there was no defence from Mandelson, Prescott or any of the others in the cabal: then the squatting in the poor old dear’s house until an awkward apology was no doubt extracted… it was just a car crash.
As a communications specialist I think this will be an important nail in the coffin of the Labour campaign: I don’t think it’s the stake through the heart that certain commentators are predicting it’s going to be – but I do think that Brown’s now a wounded animal, and that’ll be a dangerous game for both Cameron and Clegg to play with. CCHQ have been remarkably restrained all day, LDHQ slightly less so – but it shouldn’t be forgotten that wounded animal’s lash out – sometimes fatally – so it’ll be interesting to see how they both handle him.
What a palaver, the three leaders were on TV (like they are every Wednesday at 12), but apparently this is a big thing, in front of an off-puttingly silent studio audience the leaders today battled it out to get their point their policies and ways to move the country forward…
…Or rather, they didn’t. They sort of answered questions in parrot fashion each given a time slot to get out a soundbite. None of them came across badly, even Brown who you expected to be grinding his teeth within minutes seemed human, but I’m not convinced, as someone that’s been an obsessive follower of the Westminster village for a long time I don’t think this did anything to humanise politics: if I were a floating voter right now I’d be none the wiser, they basically agreed on all the good stuff.
Looking at the Polling, Clegg came out of this well – some seem to see this as a surprise, but really it’s not, he was given a platform to play with the big boys, and he used it. Cameron came across strongly toward the end, more of that please next time around, and Brown, despite the doom-mongering about Brown from both sides (said with glee and despair depending on your standing), came across as a passionate advocate of public services and the UK in general.
What I didn’t understand was the lack of debate, blatant mistruths were allowed to come tumbling out from all sides without much in the way of any argument, I personally think the threeway was an uncomfortable one – what you really wanted to see was Brown & Cameron head to head, well refereed but raw. What you got was a little anodyne, the clear anger at the political system on display in the queue to get into the audience was completely absent.
I don’t think we’re quite on the American level yet, I don’t think our public want blood on the dancefloor, but I think most would have been happier if it appeared there could have been a fight.
- Brown 5
- Cameron 7
- Clegg 8 (but frankly was +2 before he started…)