With the general election fast approaching, political parties and their leaders seem to be everywhere you look. As a politics student, I couldn’t resist a post on the televised leaders debate. However, instead of focusing on the winners and losers, I want to share my thoughts on what the debate represents beyond the discussion of stances on different policy areas.
1. Presidential style campaigns: Voting for leaders if we like them, instead of policies
In recent years, the growing focus on party leaders and their personal lives – most notably their spousal choices – has led to the belief the UK’s elections are becoming more and more like that of our American counterparts with prospective Prime Ministers running Presidential-like campaigns. Televised debates have been central to American Presidential campaigns since the 1960’s, being used as the first test to candidates ability to ‘President’ (represent national values, argue effectively, defend policy stance); though it wasn’t until 2010 when the UK had their first. The televised debates have the primary importance of seeing how the candidates handle pressure: side by side comparisons of how well they present their ideas and defend their parties from criticism. Days after the debates, talk shows, newspapers and social media held huge discussions on the body language, facial expressions and overall representations of the candidates. The debates increasingly showed voters deciding on whether they liked the party leader, as opposed to their stance on policy areas.
2. No longer a two party system
With the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the last televised debate and the surprising outcome of the coalition government from the previous election, debates on the UK no longer being a two-party system heated up. The 2010 televised leadership debates had a profound effect on the election results by being seen as the starting point for Nick Clegg’s widespread popularity, his fresh take aided the emergence of the Liberal Democrats as a realistic, feasible alternative to two-party ping pong with polls suggesting he ‘won’ the first debate.
Although many argue the inclusion of minor parties in the 2015 debate will do little to aid a bid for Prime Minister, these minor parties are given the chance to present themselves to a bigger audience by being on a platform almost everyone has access to; an opportunity minor parties often lack due to limits in resources and funding for grassroots action. In my opinion, the televised debate was most important for these smaller parties by helping them reach wider audiences. And to the surprise of many, the leader of a minor party, went on to ‘win’ this debate.
Whilst watching the debate, I found it difficult to contain my inner feminist. Not only was the debate hosted by a female, but the stage saw not one, or two, but three female party leaders. Arguably the most successful performance of the evening – not just among the females, but all the candidates – came from the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon. My thoughts were a constant trail of ‘you go girl’ throughout.
To wrap this up, I just wanted to finish by urging those of you who can, to vote in this election. Vote for someone you like, vote for policies you like, or tick a random box if you think they’re all the same. Our ancestors fought for us to have this right, the least we can do is honour them by exercising it.