Notwithstanding, the nonsense now being talked about a November election, last week’s bid by Adam Boulton and SKY for a commission to supervise election debates between the party leaders reminded me of just how much I detested them.
My recollection was that the debates in 2010 sucked the life out of the entire campaign with all the focus hanging on the debates to the exclusion of almost everything else. (That is until Gordon Brown forgot to take his microphone off in his car before making unguarded comments following an encounter when a voter gave him a piece of her mind about immigration).
It was a mistake for David Cameron to have issued the debating challenge in the first place, and a measure of Gordon Brown’s desperation that he accepted it.
In the 2017 election the debate was a shambles. Notwithstanding Theresa May absenting herself, the same exposure was given to regional parties and those only contesting a few seats, as was given to the main parties contesting every parliamentary division, which was quite absurd.
More important, the debates are a constitutional monstrosity: We do not directly elect our prime ministers in the United Kingdom, on the contrary, we elect Parliament. The only voters that will have the Prime Minister’s name on their ballot paper will be those in the one parliamentary constituency out of 650 that he or she is seeking election to represent.
The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and not directly to the voters. To invest the aspiring PM with head to head debates against potential rivals is to give them the dangerous impression of power and authority that under our constitution they do not, and should not possess.
If we really want a presidential style of politics it is perfectly proper for us to entertain changing our constitution to directly elect the PM as Israel has done. There may be constitutional arguments and advantages for doing so, though I doubt it. I would be very reluctant to change because, in my experience, one of the problems parliamentarians have striven to redress over recent years is the relative weakness of Parliament as against the powers wielded by government. Directly electing the head of the government would enhance its power and authority vis a vis Parliament, which is the very opposite of what we have been trying to achieve.
We certainly ought not to consider changing our constitutional arrangements to suit media pundits whose primary concern is TV ratings and entertainment, however they might dress it up.