Impolitic 2: 7 Podiums

I am, as yet, an Undecided Voter.

In my last blog post, I made a promise to get involved in politics, and since then, I have been doing just that. I have just partaken in what is for me a marathon in terms of mental exercise and self-education. I watched the entirety of the two hour debate this evening on ITV. Seven party leaders failed to colour coordinated with their podiums and I attempted to keep pace with it all. The political canvas is a-flood with colour, but here is the point: never before has anyone needed more than 3 colours.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Green Party’s Natalie Bennett celebrated this innovative move away from the “Old Boys Club” that has ruled Westminster for so long. Things are being shaken up.

Lots of people are going to make a big fuss about there being three women on the podiums, but this is an issue that is far from relevant tonight. This “Well done for holding your own in there, Love,” mentality is patronising as well as immaterial. Tonight, Sturgeon, Bennett and Wood were not women, and indeed, Cameron, Miliband, Farage and Clegg were not men: they were political leaders with arguments to present. Gender should not come into it

Of course, each leader projected a different kind of presence. As I’ve already confessed, I have only recently begun to engage in politics and watching this debate is the first time I have been able to take a comprehensive look at each leader and form an opinion. The opening statements were my first opportunity to take stock of each leader. As the ITV producers strove to introduce drama, slowly zooming in on each excessively earnest face, I was forming my first impressions:

(In order of appearance)

  • Green Party: Natalie Bennett urges us to “Vote for Change”. Deliberate, concise delivery.**
  • UKIP: Nigel Farage zeroing in on immigration from the off. A very different voice to the rest, a refreshing kind of bluntness.
  • Liberal Democrats: Nick Clegg says “No Ideological Cuts”. Admits to his failures in the past, but is committed to Balancing the Books fairly.**
  • SNP: Nicola Sturgeon heralds the change to party politics for the whole of the UK. But Scottish Independence is still at the heart of it.
  • Conservative: PM David Cameron cites the successes of the last 5 years in pulling the UK out of the deficit. Stick to the current plan, Balance the Books.
  • Plaid Cymru: Leanne Wood, like the SNP, calls for Welsh citizens to get fair representation.
  • Labour: Ed Miliband stares straight down the camera. His statement has the frequent refrain of “If I’m Prime Minister…” A focus on lower university fees, a ban on zero hour contracts and a rise in minimum wage.**

From the outset, this debate is divided – not by gender, but by ambition. While the Battle for Number 10 gathers momentum, this year the position of Prime Minister is not the only trophy available. Some of the party leaders did not speak once of becoming Prime Minister. For some, a far more modest victory can be won, through the gaining of fair representation alone.

By providing an equal platform, the policies of smaller parties like Plaid Cymru are being given as much air time as the far more popular parties. What will be the effect of this?

Never before have so many parties been given an equal platform. Fears of a hung parliament are growing and this seven-way debate will likely serve to decrease the chance of an outright majority come the election. If not this year, then at some point soon, our political process may have to evolve in order to include far more voices than have been represented in the past.

As soon as the floor was opened to general debate for Question 1, Clegg took the debate to Miliband and Cameron and Miliband took the fight to Cameron whenever he could. It is true that The Old Boys bickered among themselves on several occasions throughout the debate. But that is not to say that the other leaders didn’t get their oar in. All seven leaders played an active role in the debate and, even though some parties are unlikely to gain power, their presence was felt. The inclusion of new parties forced the older ones to play a different game. It is my belief that asking the party leaders to challenge each other in this way is a fantastic means of testing the conviction of those destined to lead as well as giving the Undecided Voters a format in which to directly compare their options. I think it a shame that this debate is the only one planned.

Labour and Conservative are both emphatic that they are the only ones in the race. That emphasis is, in my opinion, a means of keeping alternative views at bay. The big parties have become accustomed to the status they have maintained and this new multi-political debate is a threat to that. Loud voices claim that Cameron’s push to get other parties involved in the debate was to prevent a one-on-one with Miliband. However, no matter the happenstance through which this seven-way debate came to pass, it would be a mistake to assume that their presence was without weight.

By giving the smaller parties a platform, those smaller parties will receive attention and they will gain support. Whether Decided or Undecided, do not dismiss the potential influence this debate will have on the election and indeed all future elections.

**NB: The thoughts here expressed and events related have been taken from the notes I scribbled as I watched the debate. Quotes have been taken from memory and are not verbatim.

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