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Year 2010 No. 17, April 23, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

"Leaders' Debate":

Lowering the Level of Political Culture

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Lowering the Level of Political Culture

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"Leaders' Debate":

Lowering the Level of Political Culture

On April 15, the first of the three US-style televised general election debates between the leaders of the three big parties was held, shown on ITV1. The second was shown last night, April 22, on Sky News, and the final debate will be on April 29 on BBC One.

The issue is presented as one of who “wins the debate”. Why is this the issue? Why does the media immediately run polls a la X-Factor? At least in those talent shows, contestants get eliminated as the weeks go by. The point is that, far from discussing crucial issues facing the polity, these “leaders’ debates” have the aim of driving down the level of political culture to the utmost.

The current situation is one in which an increasingly distant political elite collude and compete for power in equal measure. The old illusion that discontent with the existing government is solved with the election of the opposition has been shattered as a single line is followed ever more obviously, replaced by a cynicism that all parties and politicians are the same. Combined with scandals that expose for all to see the extent to which privilege runs right through the political system to its very core, the divide between politicians and the people has been emerging as central. This has led to a profound crisis of legitimacy manifested as a general disaffection with representative democracy.

At the same time, no single faction and leader of the big-party cartel has been able to emerge as an obvious champion of the programme of the British ruling class. After 31 years of Conservative-Labour rule during which the anti-social pro-war offensive has been unleashed and relentlessly stepped up, no new Blair or Obama has arisen on the British political scene able to inspire people behind a deception of change. Gordon Brown is visibly out of steam, while David Cameron lacks any real credibility.

The big media represented by the BBC, ITV and Sky have therefore been brought in, essentially funding and facilitating the big party campaigns at the expense of the political process. Firstly, the aim is to test out the personal popularity and "presidential" qualities of the party leaders in front of the electorate. This is to direct the debate among the people away from their struggles to provide solutions to the problems that they face on the basis of their own perspective, towards the perceived talent or charisma of the leaders. The attempt is to pressurise people to abandon their interests and their direct experience and, far from selecting and voting for candidates from among their peers, to take sides from among the three.

Secondly, the debates are an attempt to shore up and consolidate the Westminster cartel as the only option. Controversy has already erupted over the exclusion of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru from the main Britain-wide debates, while the Green Party and UK Independence Party also want to be included. And the fraud is consolidated that it is only the “big three” which matter. The exposure of the big media bolstering the big party cartel is already underway.

Thirdly, the aim is to set the political agenda for the electorate, to prevent the electorate from taking control of what are the election issues. In particular, severe cuts to social programmes are a foregone conclusion; the debate is fixed around immediate and deep versus drawn out. In this respect, the media have also been complicit in the very noticeable "don't talk about the war" conspiracy of silence that surrounds the election campaign.

The underlying aim is to obscure the role played by people in the political life of the country. Politics is driven down to the lowest levels, presented dogmatically as a set of policies and personalities around which active thinking and participation by the electorate plays no role whatsoever. The sets of policies, the forgone conclusions, are presented to marginalise the people and present politics as something that should be left in the hands of the professional experts and politicians of the big parties.

Commenting on the debates, the leaders of “minor” parties who were not invited to participate were disparaging. SNP Leader Alex Salmond said, “You had three Westminster politicians who agree with each other on 99% of issues, and therefore the debate couldn’t really come alive because of that convergence on the things that matter, and also, of course, because the audience weren’t allowed to really participate.” Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said: “In what was a very sterile debate, not once did we hear the word Wales mentioned by any of the leaders. Indeed much of what they said was irrelevant to our communities.”

The idea to hold such debates in Britain was first voiced publicly in 1964, when Harold Wilson suggested Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home to an election debate, who turned Wilson down saying: "I'm not particularly attracted by confrontations of personality. If we aren't careful you know you'll get a sort of Top of the Pops contest. You'll then get the best actor as leader of the country and the actor will be prompted by a scriptwriter." That description could well be applied to the leaders' debate.

The effect of the leaders’ debate is being touted as evidence of a “new” type of politics, and that all the parties must adapt. But it is old politics in a most degenerate form, aiming to entrench the fact that the electorate is to be forever debarred from the decision-making process, that is they are to have no role in any decision-making which allows them to participate in setting the agenda, deciding the direction for the country, or taking control of their lives and their future. This “flash-in-the-pan” surge in popularity of this leader, or uncharismatic performance of that leader, or ill-advised showing of another, is hugely detrimental and extremely dangerous to the polity, the people’s well-being and to the political process.

Against this, the trend for the alternative is growing. The sentiment of “Who Decides? We Decide!” when it comes to the economy, to political life or to any other social issue which affects the life of the people is paramount. The future lies in the working class and people themselves participating in setting the aim for society and engaging in a pro-social project that favours the people. In this election, those candidates who represent the future are those who have been active among and have been nominated by their peers. The crisis of working class representation must also be solved, because it is the working class who must take centre-stage and stand at the forefront of the opposition to the Westminster cartel and their monopoly backers.

WDIE calls on the working class and people to reject with the utmost contempt the fraud of the “leaders’ debate” and get further organised to empower themselves, and provide themselves with a vision of what democracy that favours the people should be like and fight for democratic renewal.

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