So now they're over. We've had three debates and ITV, Sky and the BBC have been given a crack of the whip at giving the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems a crack of the whip. I think it's fair to say that these US style debates are here to stay but has the experiment been a success?1) It got people talking: It most certainly did. And not just talking but tweeting and blogging and Booing and Facebooking and YouTubing and all other kinds of social mediaing. There is always a buzz of excitement around a general election but it has been more pronounced this time with water-cooler talk straying from Glee, football and the latest meme to the leaders' debates. And lets face it, after the apathy of 2005 when somewhere between 45 per cent and 60 per cent of the population voted. #success
2) It brought the politicians to the people: Previously to see a leader in action you had to watch carefully edited clips or an interview from a journalist who quite frequently had an agenda be it political or simply the furthering of their own public image (yes that's you Paxman). #success
3) It highlighted the difference between the parties: Certainly each leader was given a soapbox to display their ideologies and opinions. However, they often couldn't agree on what that was. How many times did we hear a leader say 'that is not what our manifesto states' or my personal favourite from Clegg to Cameron: 'Let's assume that every time you talk about our policy, you're going to be wrong'. This did not help with clarifying the parties' stance on issues, if anything is muddied the waters further and identifying exactly what a leader's opinion was became almost impossible. #fail
4) It highlight the opportunity for choice and change: There clearly was choice in that there were three parties represented but two of those parties have swapped power in the UK since 1918 and the third held power before that and has been third ever since. What these debates did was reinforce the prominence of these three parties to the detriment of the wider political democracy and the anger of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens and UKIP. I fear that votes for the minority parties will fall further this year as they struggle to make their voices heard. #fail
So on those four points it would appear to be in the balance but in my opinion, the first two are relatively superficial in that they are involved largely with engaging the electorate with the principle of the election, not with making and informed decision.
As I have already stated, these debates are here to stay - any leader not wanting to talk part would be hideously ridiculed and branded a coward. But perhaps a change to the format would be preferable.
Why wasn't the debate taken to Scotland and Wales with Alec Salmon and Ieuan Wyn Jones given a voice in parts of the UK where they enjoy huge support
Why haven't the Greens and UKIP been given a chance to get themselves heard? Surely that can only add to the opportunity for democratic choice.
Also do we need a referee and not just a facilitator? How many people are going to listen to Clegg and Cameron disagree about what it says in their respective manifestos and then scurry away and see who is right? I would have loved Dimbleby to step in and say "Actually David it does say on page 98 of your manifesto that blah blah blah, are you telling us that is incorrect?" I’m not naïve enough to think there is never any ambiguity in a manifesto but at least it would help us make an informed choice.
Still, it has really livened things up on the comedy front with Twitter abound with cracking jokes and comments. Of course some people tried a little to hard but here's a selection of some of my favourites:
@charltonbrooker: "Bloke sitting to the left of questioner has a beard like one of those iron-filing magnetic novelty face things"
And then of course you get this great screen grab (although it as, as far as I am aware, taken and circulated by Conservative campaigner @TimMontgomerie before being picked up and used by virtually all media outlets today)