As a political hack, general elections are fantastic. For four to six precious weeks our area of interest has the sort of prominence ordinarily reserved for sport and such, and special theatrics like last night’s ‘seven dwarves’ debate are specially laid on.
Yet I do wonder if, from the perspective of the ordinary voter, the close involvement of such obsessives as we is sometimes counterproductive.
Last week, in the aftermath of a birthday party, I wound up in a late night diner with an old friend and the conversation turned, to my surprise, to politics.
It turned out that not only was she taking a real interest in an election for the first time, but that she had tuned in to watch the previous evening’s debate, featuring the eagerly awaited return of Jeremy Paxman, the nation’s inquisitor-in-chief.
However, despite feeling that David Cameron had come off best, her reason gave me pause for thought: “He best managed to get his points across despite the other man trying to stop him.” (Or words to similar effect, I don’t take my notebook to parties.)
Looking back with the benefit of that perspective, it now seems to be that for all the excitement in political circles, Andrew Marr may have been right to suggest that ‘Paxo’ was a poor choice.
Whilst people who follow politics closely are familiar with the party leaders and up for a bit of blood sport, there are an awful lot of voters for whom election spectacles are some of the only times they tune in to politics.
If the debates, or pseudo-debates, or other election television events, are to fulfil their professed function of engaging and informing the wider electorate then a more measured style, allowing each leader to set out the basics of their case and then pressing them on the issues, would probably have been more useful, if less exciting for the likes of me.
Conversely, whilst the Times (£) may disagree I think that having the two plausible candidates for the highest office raked over the coals and forced into a spluttering defence might make good television but will do little to combat the prevailing mood of profound public cynicism towards politics and those who practice it.
Let’s hope that David Dimbleby, at the helm for a Question Time election special, can better strike the balance between good television and public service.