I missed the leaders’ debate but have seen far too much of the analysis since. Whatever you think of the effect- politics has changed. Some are calling this the X-factor election, though Alan Johnson, it seems hasn’t cottoned on:
‘The agreeable Alan Johnson suggested that it did not matter if the prime minister was a leaden performer because “this is not a popularity contest”. Alan, allow me to let you into a little secret about a general election. Popularity contest is exactly what it is.’ (Andrew Rawnsley, The Lib Dems find you don’t need to spin when you’re winning, Guardian 18/04/10)
There’s lot’s of time to go, 2 weeks and 3 days is a very long time in politics. But what we have now is an unexpectedly intriguing contest. And that has to be good for the engagement of the electorate. Speaking to church audiences over the weekend the overwhelming feeling was that this is a fantastic opportunity to question candidates both on party issues and on (free) conscience vote issues, e.g. assisted suicide. Style and capturing the public’s appetite is one thing- it is surely better if we have the substance examined by kingdom values of human dignity, social justice and religious freedom.
If there is a balanced (hung) parliament it may lead to greater reforms of parliament itself and the way we elect our politicians. It would also lead to more closely followed debates, with votes that have uncertain outcomes. This inspires involvement- it certainly drew me in during the ’92-’97 parliament with dramatic key votes. But here is one key proposal I would like to see regardless of the result of #GE2010: Root and Branch reform of Prime Ministers questions. One of the reasons we have rarely heard the 3rd party leader in debate before is that back-benchers of other parties barrack him so as to render his voice inaudible. that is why he often seems to be shouting (he is). The speaker(s) are so lilly-livered that they have little or no control. And the other party leaders fail to do anything. So, in the next parliament, the speaker should suspend the party leader of any party whose MPs bully other members in this way for 5 working days (1st offence) 10 working days (2nd offence)… That might make respect in debate a little more possible. And don’t get me onto redesigning the layout of the chamber.