Election 2017? The Writer reawakens... JTR Corbett is back!

Election 2017? The Writer reawakens... JTR Corbett is back!

by James Corbett
article from Tuesday 30, May, 2017

WELL, after a prolonged hiatus, I’m back. Fortunately nothing much has happened in my absence. Except Brexit… and Theresa May becoming PM… and Trump… and the Council Elections. Okay, maybe a little has happened since I last wrote on ThinkScotland - even the website’s had a snazzy makeover. Anyway, I’m back now and it’s an exciting time for UK politics as we witness an election race to see whether the unreconstructed socialist Jeremy Corbyn can apply a veneer of credibility faster than the Theresa May Team’s iron message discipline and political tin ear can turn a landslide into a mud pie.

 The decision by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn not to participate in TV debates was seen by some as an affront to democracy. Mostly by minor parties who want a chance for their very own “Cleggmania”, and journalists being deprived of the chance to write countless “impacts of the debate on the election” stories. Perhaps they have a point; TV debates have been part of our democratic process for so long, it’s difficult to remember a time before them. Seriously, back in 2010 we didn’t even have Game of Thrones on TV to draw analogies from for debate analysis, and the first iPad had barely been on sale for a month. Can you remember what life was like before iPads, GoT and TV debates?

In fact, pause for a moment and applaud everyone eligible to vote before 2010 for managing to keep democracy alive in that barren wilderness.

Fortunately we’re living in more enlightened times so I should probably turn my thoughts to the debates so far. I’ll join the majority of the viewing public and skip over the ITV Leaders’ Debate with the minor parties, and go straight to the Scottish Leaders’ Debate. In Scotland, as Alex Massie and others have rightly observed, our Holyrood politicians are increasingly a cut above many of their Westminster counterparts. TV debate performances are no exception, but that might be down to the seemingly endless number of opportunities they’ve had to hone their skills in recent years. Had it not been for this snap general election we might have gone an entire year without seeing Scottish politicians debate. Apart from in that really big and expensive chamber we built in Edinburgh for them to do it for hours every day, three days a week.

Modern Westminster elections are inevitably confusing as the line between devolved issues and reserved ones becomes blurred, but at least when we have an election in Scotland, the TV debates, while still objectively totally uninformative, are at least conducted by politicians with a decent amount of debate experience.  And, since every silver lining must have a cloud, had it not been for this debate I, like so many of you, would have forgotten about David Coburn; but now I’m back to square one.

As the leaders of Scotland’s political parties lined up on stage like the members of a combined Little Mix / One Direction supergroup reunion in 25 years time, my second thought was to ask why there are so many of them? (My first thought was, of course, that the name of the supergroup really had to be “Little Direction”…)

Yes, broadcasters should be fair and balanced (whatever that means) and present a range of views, but it’s hard to imagine that the prospects of the Scottish Greens or UKIP have been materially affected by their appearance. Mind you, had they not been there, we wouldn’t have experienced the moment of national unity that came when David Coburn’s request to interject was answered with a resounding “No”. And I think we all needed that.

Patrick Harvie, whatever you think of his politics, is at least always good value in a debate. This time was no different as he deployed the novel idea of using the Greens to push an environmental agenda rather than as the home for hipsters who can’t bring themselves to vote SNP for fear of damaging their reputation as quirky individualists. You could argue that the Liberal Democrats didn’t need to be there either, but I’ve always thought that a bit of Lib Dem now and then doesn’t do any harm; as long as you don’t inhale.

I’d take you through the key moments of the debate, but if you’re the kind of astute political mind that visits ThinkScotland, you were probably watching it or watching it and tweeting a blow by blow review, or watching it and reading someone else’s blow by blow review and retweeting it, or not watching it but subsequently reading several detailed reviews. Instead, I’ll just turn to the moment that anyone’s actually talked about since.

I firmly believe Question Time would be better without an audience (and David Dimbleby), but I’m forced to concede that the biggest hit against any politician that night was scored against Nicola Sturgeon by a nurse in the audience

For all the energy generated by and put into preparing for debates, the outcome can hinge on something utterly unpredictable. When the First Minister was blown off course by the criticism of a nurse in the audience - talking about having to use foodbanks – the paranoid witch hunters of the cybernat Twitterati found themselves a new target. As accusations and counter accusations flew a few of the more excitable SNP MPs and MSPs put their feet in it, jumping on the bandwagon as it hurtled towards a steaming pile of manure. In response, those who rather enjoyed seeing the FM being reminded that she’s in charge of a government that’s responsible for stuff dutifully turned the outrage knob to 11.

And then, on the brink of a full-blown post-debate mudslinging contest with the familiar blend of platitude, populism and puffery, the real world came crashing in.

It’s uncomfortably easy to become so fixated on the animosity of politics that we lose perspective and fail to remember quite how insignificant the day to day barney of politics really is. The attack in Manchester was a shock to the system that we’ll all be digesting for some time but just as it was right to pause and pay our respects to the victims, its right that we carry on and return to the fray.

This week, the election returns to full throttle, the leaflets will fly, twitter will continue to be a seething morass of self-reinforcing biases passing each other like ships in the night and the opinion polls will appear - like Paul Nuttall in a Lamborghini - thick and fast.

The TV debates such as last night’s between May and Corbyn will be back as well, having whatever impact it is they have, but amid all this, try and find time to pause for a moment and remember that behind all this division and discord, there’s more that unites us than divides us. We all want tomorrow to be better than today, even if we have different views of the best way to get there.

Across the UK and throughout politics, there’s much more agreement than disagreement. For example, I think we’d all agree that Andrew Neil’s interviews with the party leaders are so much better than any TV debate.

If you disagree and want to have a full and frank exchange of views on the matter in a televised discussion in front of an audience, do let me know. I’d like some warning about when to change the channel.

Twitter: @jtrcorbett

 Since he last wrote for ThinkScotland, James Corbett has somehow found himself with a day job. As a result, he’s now obliged to state that the opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of his employer, or anyone else for that matter.

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