GE2015 minus 41: so many questions, so few answers…

Posted: 27 March 2015 in general election 2015, media, politics
Tags: , , , ,

So, last night we had the first leaders’ debates, interviews, question and answer sessions, event. I’m not sure if I can quite communicate my contempt for what actually ensued with the paltry vocabulary I own. Indeed, to fully express the disappointment, I’m pretty sure I’d have to make up new words: “fuckleness”, maybe, or “prickdoodle”, or even “stucuntedly” might work as a suitable adjective, I guess.

Sigh.

OK, OK … let’s see what went right about last night’s fiasco.

erm…

No, that’s not fair. In brief, the Paxman bits , interviewing David Cameron and Ed Miliband separately (very important that) were excellent viewing, but taught the audiences nothing other than supplying an unnecessary reminder that politicians really don’t like answering questions.

As always happens with political broadcasts by party leaders shortly before an election, the format was a compromise, which was only appropriate since the contents of the television programme turned out to be full of compromises as well.

What was supposed to happen, and what the politicians expected to happen, was that first off David Cameron would be interviewed by that master of political interviews, Jeremy Paxman, leading to the viewers learning something they didn’t know before. The Prime Minister was no doubt sure of his facts and certain of his ability to answer any question Paxman asked that he liked… and easily bat away those he didn’t like. Then he’d face a studio audience and he’d ‘connect’ with them, charming the pants off them. And of course, he’d charm the host of this bit, Kay Burley. (Even those politically opposed to Cameron have stated – often through gritted teeth – how damn charming the man is in person.) He was certain that he’d not only hold the studio audience’s attention, but more importantly, those of the watching millions. He’d convince them that not only does he personify Prime Ministerial authority, but that it’d be patently obvious that he should be allowed to continue in the role. And of course, according to the Conservatives’ plan, Ed Miliband would be out of his depth in both venues when it was his turn.

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Ed Miliband, on the other hand, thought David Cameron would do well during his bits, but he’d come over as too authoritarian, too posh and completely out of touch with ‘normal’ people. Whereas of course he (Miliband) would have that ‘common touch’, that the passion for his views would first impress Burley and the studio audience, and then without doubt, he’d be able to handle whatever Paxman had in store for him.

Well, they were both wrong. Spectacularly, horrendously, astonishingly wrong. But wrong in a way that neither of them could have anticipated.

Whatever else one can say about David Cameron, he’s rarely short of an answer. Were ‘stalling so he can gather his thoughts’ to be an Olympic event, he’d stand a good chance at bringing home the gold for Great Britain in Rio. But the moment Paxman started asking questions of David Cameron, it become stunningly obvious that the Prime Minister just hadn’t prepared properly – or at all. It was almost painful, watching Paxman eviscerate Cameron, layer by layer. Cameron was so bludgeoned by the questions, let alone the style in which they were asked, that he never recovered. I’ve never seen the Prime Minister so out of his depth. It was like watching a World Cup level penalty taker shooting at a primary school goalkeeper. It wasn’t that the shots went in; it was that Cameron never had a clue how to stop them. It was a painful twenty minutes to watch, but at least it was gripping television, in the same way you can’t take your eyes off a motorway accident as you drive past it.

Would that the same could have been said about the Q&A with the studio audience.

Public Service Announcement: If you’ve been suffering from insomnia, cue up the Prime Minister’s Q&A, and you’ll soon get the benefits of its soporific effects. It was even more astonishing than the interview in that we learned that David Cameron can be boring, hugely boring, foolishly, absurdly boring. But he shouldn’t shoulder the blame himself. Not when the audience asked such trivial and meaningless questions. Kay Burley helped and did her part by ensuring that if the boredom level was in danger of lessening, stamping on such a dangerous likelihood at once!

There was a moment of genuine pleasure during this latter bit. It happened at exactly the point when they broke for an ad break and millions were shaken out of a coma-like state.

After the break, came the leader of the official opposition, and David Cameron’s only challenger for Prime Minister after the election, Ed Miliband. Yeah, I know that kind of implies a presidential system rather than a parliamentary, but you know what I mean.

Unlike Cameron, Miliband chose to have the Q&A part first, and face Paxman later. Turned out to be a smart move, because even had he been as boring as Cameron, he must have known that the interview with Paxman would be remembered… for good or ill.

Again, the questions were trivial and meaningless; an obvious question as to the ‘rift’ with his brother, though I’m at a loss to understand what that has to do with Labour’s policies or Ed Miliband’s suitability to be Prime Minister. However, with a couple of rare exceptions, at least this part wasn’t as boring as Cameron’s stint. To be fair, that was a low bar, but then turned out to be the unspoken theme of Miliband’s appearances. The bar was set low and as long as he didn’t throw up on stage, he was likely to exceed expectations. He even showed passion at a few points; the problem was that I didn’t believe that the passion had anything to do with what he was talking about. It just seemed that an alarm clock went off inside his head, so he was passionate at that moment.

One thing that was very noticeable was Kay Burley’s stronger interventions; she definitely gave Miliband a harder time than she gave Cameron. There could be many reasons for this, but I don’t accept the suggestions that it was politically biased. I think David Aaronovitch had it about right:

 

After that, Miliband sat and was quizzed by Paxman. Well, I say quizzed; I think Miliband would have done better had it just been a quick question and answer pub quiz. He was – to me at least – entirely unconvincing, did as much question-dodging as Cameron, and his attempt to convince Paxman that he could be tough in negotiations came off as over-rehearsed, at least to me. It’s perhaps worth noting that Miliband didn’t cock up on anything else really, which put him head and shoulders in front of Cameron.

I’d score it:

PAXMAN
Cameron: 1 out of 5
Miliband: 3 out of 5

Q&A
Cameron: 0 out of 5 (soporific)
Miliband: 3 out of 5

So, all told, Miliband ‘won’, but in what I suspect will be the  theme of this election, he didn’t win… he just lost less well.

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