Nation groans over politics as TV debate flops

Erin for PM: Viewers called for the Glasgow schoolgirl, 15, to take over the country at once.

Is politics broken or was it just terrible TV? Five evasive and smarmy, middle-aged men in dark suits, squirming uncomfortably on bar stools, stand charged of dragging politics to a new low.

In the end, it was Erin from Glasgow who summed up the general mood.

She appeared on last night’s live TV debate between the five remaining candidates to become prime minister, to ask if any of the hopefuls would commit to zero carbon emissions by 2025.

She looked thoroughly unimpressed as Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart praised her ambition, but wouldn’t commit to the target.

It was a similar story as Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid offered equally vague answers.

And when presenter Emily Maitlis asked her who gave the best response, she replied, “None of you have impressed me in the way I’m looking for. Climate change isn’t an issue of tomorrow, it is an issue of today. We need to take drastic, critical action and I don’t think any of you are willing to offer that, so, thank you.”

As the candidates looked sheepish on camera, Twitter exploded with praise.

One user said: “Erin speaks for the nation.” Another added: “Took a 15yr old on the programme to tell the truth.”

And author Jack Monroe posted: “Can we just have 15 year old Erin from Glasgow for #TheNextPrimeMinister please? Thanks.”

Just typical Twitter banter? Judging by the serious commentary in today’s papers, it goes deeper than that.

Most experts think that all five of the candidates for Britain’s most powerful job came across poorly last night: waffly, insincere and not a single woman candidate among them.

“Perched on stools, our five candidates looked like drunkards without a bar. Four of the men, on best behaviour, placed both feet neatly on the cross-bar while, at the far end, Rory Stewart sprawled, legs akimbo like a languorous frog,” writes Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph.

The Times leader column says Johnson “looked uncomfortable and unassertive”, and Hunt came across as “insincere”. Elsewhere, Gove is described as “shouty” and “over-prepared”; Javid as “bland”, with Stewart as “eccentric” and “having a terrible Messiah complex”.

Still the clear favourite to win, Johnson got into his worst trouble when asked by Abdullah, an imam from Bristol, whether he accepted that “words have consequences” – a reference to Johnson’s notorious comment comparing Muslim women in burqas to “letterboxes”.

Johnson immediately forgot Abdullah’s name, referring repeatedly to “our friend from Bristol” as he embarked on a repetitive ramble about his Muslim great-grandfather and being taken “out of context”.

The online comments in The Times this morning are typical of thousands. “What a shower! Is that the best we can do?” reads one. “No wonder people despair of the state of politics. None of these people invoke any excitement or sense of optimism,” says another.

Form or content?

What’s to blame? One dominant view is that it’s the TV format. Members of the public asking huge questions of five of the most ambitious, ego-driven men in the country, as if sizing them up for Blind Date, is bound to result in a chaotic shouting match. It is a mindless, demeaning public spectacle akin to asking Tyson Fury to take part in a mud-wrestling show. Winston Churchill, himself, would have looked second-rate in that situation.

The other view is just as widespread – but bleaker. Modern British politics has become a career that rewards and promotes mainly narcissistic males. These people are so ravenous for love, power and attention that they will do anything it takes to get to the top. They will lie, they will make false claims about themselves, they will lose all touch with reality, in order to win. Politics is broken and we desperately need a new start.

You Decide

  1. What sort of people do we want as politicians?
  2. Does TV cheapen debate?

Activities

  1. Let’s say politics really IS broken. We need a new type of public leader. Design a powerful poster, launching the campaign for that new type of leader. How might it look? What might it say?
  2. The imam asked, “Do words have consequences?” You have 60 seconds to respond on live TV. What would you say? Write down your thoughts and present them to the class. You can hold a vote to choose the best response.

Some People Say...

“Politicians neither love nor hate. Interest, not sentiment, governs them.”

GK Chesterton, English writer (1874-1936)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last night, Dominic Raab was knocked out of the Tory leadership race in the latest ballot of MPs, leaving five candidates in the battle to be the next PM. Boris Johnson once again came top of the ballot, with 126 votes — 12 more than in the first round. Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart also got enough votes to make it into the next round.
What do we not know?
Who will win! The candidates will now face up to three further ballots later today, tomorrow and Friday, where the lowest-ranked MP will be knocked out until only two are left. The final two names will then be put to a postal vote of the 160,000 Tory Party members, beginning on Saturday. The winner is expected to be announced about four weeks later.

Word Watch

Live TV debate
The debate was broadcast on BBC1 at 8pm last night. Members of the public asked questions via a live feed and all five leadership candidates were given time to respond in turn. Questioners were sometimes given a chance to comment. Often the five political rivals interrupted each other, spoke over each other and ignored the female presenter.
Emily Maitlis
She is a distinguished 48-year-old British journalist, now presenter of Newsnight on BBC2. She has been generally praised for her efforts to keep the debate on track last night, and she repeatedly pressed the candidates to come up with straight answers.
Jack Monroe
A food writer, journalist and activist known for campaigning on poverty issues, particularly hunger relief. Monroe initially rose to prominence for writing a blog titled, A Girl Called Jack.
Messiah complex
A state of mind when a person believes they are a type of saviour, responsible for saving others.
Imam
Usually, the leader of a mosque and muslim community.