Friday, September 24, 2004

The Differences between UK and US Campaigns - Part V: Debates

Debates. They are an integral part of the US campaign. Reagan won the 1980 election largely on account of his debate with Carter, or leastways that is the evidence of the polls. Then there was the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960, and so on and so forth.

First a similarity. An almost necessary precursor to the debates themselves is the 'debate about the debates'. Well, we have this aspect of it in the UK too - largely over whether there will be any sort of debate in the first place. So far the answer has always been no for a head-to-head. As I recall last time the leaders individually answered questions from an audience - and to be honest I can't remember if it was just a Labour/Tory affair or whether the Lib Dems had been invited as well.

That said, I think that a UK head to head debate is too many elections cycles away. Probably not this time around, but quite possible the time after or the time after that. I don't really know why we don't like these debates, but I think the logic is that head to head debates are "American" and therefore somehow illicit. The end result of those is that there is never really, on the campaign, a match-up like there is in the US.

On the other hand perhaps there is no need. Every week when Parliament is in session, every Wednesday, the leaders effectively do go head to head at Prime Minister's Questions, and this transcript of the most recent meeting gives some idea of the combative tone, if one imagines braying and shouting in the background as the backbenchers cheer and boo.

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