Will Burstow is a Conservative activist in Dorset and blogs at The Burstow Blog.
Yes! Let’s have television debates between the party leaders, it will be the dawn of a new era in accountable and transparent politics, and we’ll all live democratically ever after! Or will we? Because I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that we’ve got this all terribly wrong.
Now I don’t doubt that they will encourage a level of passive engagement with the political process, as Jonathan Isaby has said, akin to that of election night coverage. Nor do I seek to expand on Tim Montgomerie’s previous comments. I come at it from a different angle, a constitutional angle.
What most concerns me about the proposal is the amount of potential power it places in the hands of the Prime Minister, and in turn, the amount of power it will remove from Parliament and Cabinet. Because as we all know, politics comes down to having the power to get things done.
We’ve run elections with a constituency link and a manifesto (collective or otherwise) that each candidate aspires to implement after the election pretty much since the dawn of democracy in the United Kingdom, but the idea of a television debate changes the structure of an election campaign and so the structure of the constitution.
No longer is it about individual constituencies, no longer is it about sending your man or woman to Westminster, no longer is it about policies per se. It’s about personalities, presentation and people. I must stress of course that when I say people, I don’t mean you or I, dear reader, I refer to the party leaders.
It officially becomes about the party leaders and by proxy, takes even more power from Westminster and places it in Downing Street. This is what I’m getting at, this election campaign will further alter the balance of power between Westminster and Downing Street.
The words ‘My constituents’ and ‘The House believes’ will fall on deaf ears; ears which have been deafened by the media circus generated by them making themselves look good on telly. It will give further credence to the argument that we have a presidential form of politics in the country as the campaigns move 100% to personality politics with the televised debates in mind.
Future Prime Ministers will conclude that the election was won largely due to their abilities, disregarding activists, MPs and the people. They will be able to, at every turn, tell cabinet that they are only there now because he made them great, he achieved for them the victory so they should just shut up and listen. Is this the sort of politics we really want?
This is another gushing, open wound in a dangerous bleeding of power from Parliament, not just to Downing Street, but to the EU, Judges and Quangos. This set of debates will not empower the people because they will further weaken the House of Commons. You can talk until you are blue in the face about it being a victory for democracy and empowering people, but the fact of the matter is that democracy isn’t as cut and dried as that.
What’s the point of engaging people, interesting them in the political process if the only method of national change has taken a further battering and is lying bruised, bloodied, and staring death in the face at the altar of celebrity, television and presentation?
If we want to re-engage people, if we want to garner interest in politics, we should show how politics actually works. Just simply get rid of the dangerous gimmick. What this country wants, what this country really needs, is a programme of repatriation of powers and a proper use of those powers.
Take powers away from Judges, Quangos, the EU, the office of the Prime Minister and his whips and place it back in our Parliament and allow a new generation of representatives to make the law of the land in a squeaky clean House of Commons. End this aberration, this unholy attempt to run the country. It isn’t just wrong, but it’s obviously not working and no amount of televised debates are going to change that. In fact, they’ll just make it worse.