Monday, 6 April 2015

UK Election 2015 Leaders' TV Debate

No clear winner in TV showdown
British party leaders fail to gain an edge ahead of general election on May 7
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2015

THE outcome of Britain's general election remains highly uncertain, as opinion polls show that none of the political leaders challenging Prime Minister David Cameron inflicted a serious blow on him in the only televised debate between now and ballot day on May 7.

But that was largely because Mr Cameron succeeded in converting what was initially touted as a serious TV debate about critical national issues into a political circus in which a variety of fringe politicians traded insults.

The only electoral showdown which really matters is between his ruling Conservatives and the centre-left Labour Party led by Mr Ed Miliband; the two parties have alternated in power in Britain for almost a century.

However, Mr Cameron saw no reason why he should square off in a studio with Mr Miliband who can only gain from such a straight fight.

As a result, the Premier insisted that he will take part in only one TV debate, that this should be early in the electoral campaign, and that the TV showdown should include all political leaders, including those who have no hope of being in any government.

Mr Cameron got his wish. The TV debate took place on Thursday evening, just as most ordinary Britons were leaving on their long Easter weekend holiday, and a full month before ballot day.

And the studio was packed: Joining Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband were Mr Nick Clegg, who heads the Liberal Democrats now in coalition with the Conservatives; Mr Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a movement which wants to pull Britain out of the European Union and close the country's borders to immigrants; Ms Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP) which wants to tear the United Kingdom apart; Ms Leanne Wood, a nationalist leader from Wales who hopes to do the same; and Australian-born activist Natalie Bennett who heads the Green Party.

As entertainment, the show scored well. Bidding for the macho vote, Mr Farage refused to wear any TV make-up. But the outcome was not pretty: He sweated profusely under the harsh studio lighting, and his curious facial grimaces did not help matters.

Nor did his policies. Mr Farage claimed that "60 per cent" of those getting free medical care in Britain for the HIV infection which causes Aids are foreigners.

"You can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 (S$50,200) a year per patient," he said.

However, the studio audience burst into a round of rare applause when the UKIP leader was told by another debater that he should be "ashamed of himself" for such "scaremongering". His attempt to tie up the question of immigration to abuse of welfare services and a disease largely contracted through sexual contact backfired: Opinion polls show he topped the list of leaders deemed to have performed the "worst".

The real winner of the debate was Ms Sturgeon, the SNP leader who is Scotland's First Minister, and who succeeded in coming across as a disciplined politician. But her message - that "economic austerity is pushing people into poverty and it's holding back economic growth" - was unremarkable.

Although her good performance will boost her position in Scotland and hurt Labour's traditional strongholds there, it has no impact elsewhere in Britain.

Meanwhile, Britain's top two politicians stuck to the briefings they got from their media experts and avoided any pitfalls in the debate. Mr Cameron played the role of the statesman, reminding the audience that he serves as the country's prime minister, while Mr Miliband kept repeating promises of what he would do "if I become prime minister".

Opinion polls indicate that the result was a tie, with around a fifth of the TV audience believing either man performed best.

The fact that none of Britain's politicians succeeded in ganging up against Mr Cameron will help him.

But his tactic of neutering debate by including everyone also carries a risk: the gaggle of politicians who quarrelled with one another on British television reminded the electorate of just how politically divided Britain now is.

There is one thing on which all pollsters agree: that it is highly unlikely that the Conservatives or Labour will win a majority of the 650 parliamentary seats that are for the taking on May 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment