Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lights! Camera! Inaction!

Election fever is gripping the nations. Or a slight snuffle. But broadcasters are pulling out all the stops so viewers don't get cold feet. The first stage-managed 'debate' is set to go live on prime-time TV. Over hyped and over here. Heavily trailed to make sure of a sure fire hit.

Bored, angry, frustrated with the election? Stuck with terrestrial TV? Flick over to BBCI and C4 for fusty old houses, BBC2 for fusty old museums - or ITV for fusty old Brown.

Taking centre stage tonight are the two main Westminster party leaders, limbering up for the battle of the podiums with Windbag Clegg happy to get a look in and slag off the other two.

The TV debates will be a resounding success. Broadcasting hype will see to that. Huge effort has gone into the build up. It just needs Dimblebore to set the scene of the “historic” day.

The debates have been put together by committee and it shows. A stuffy format thrashed out between spin doctors and broadcasters behind closed doors. A ninety minutes showdown. Then two more in coming weeks. The agony.

Importing US-style politics comes with caveats. US presidential 'debates' are essential. The election campaign goes on forever. Voters are being asked to chose between presidential rivals for POTUS. Something is needed to liven it up.

But UK voters have a very short election span. Voters are chosing an MP in a constituency, not a head of state, prime minister or leader of a political party. One debate may well be an exciting novelty. But only one. With the same format, the other two will be a boring waste of space.

Nervous leaders? All three are accomplished public speakers. Well used to ducking and diving and thinking on their feet in the live TV spectacle of the commons PMQs bear pit every week.

A 'prime ministerial' debate to screw the Scottish nationalists and ignore devolved issues A 'leader's' debate when the UK election winner forms a government. Leaders and PMs can be booted out mid flow.

A 'prime ministerial' debate when Nowhere Man Clegg doesn't stand a chance of making it as PM but a fawning media class will crown Cocky Clegg king of the show.

All the hyped-up hung parliament nonsense has gone to 'kingmaker' Clegg's head, now taking centre stage in the studio. Or rather stage left or stage right, with Dave playing piggy in the middle.

The media is bigging up Clegg's big day. Part and parcel of bigging up the big event. But fed-up election weary voters already feel angry and let down by the same old politics and politicians. A TV studio draped in red, blue and yellow reinforces the stranglehold of Westminster-centred politics.

It's the gaffes, one-liners and put-down zingers which will stick with the viewer. And the carefully scripted soundbites fed to the politicians beforehand from gag-writers and spinners.

US presidential debates had memorable moments played over and over again on prime time TV.

Tricky Dicky in a sweat. Regan forgetting his lines. Bush Snr looking at his watch. Gore ready to punch the daylights out of Bush Jnr. McCain refusing to look Obama in the eye. Blair caught out like a rabbit in the headlights. (The last one's made up).

Blair ducked out of a ding-dong with Major. Not surprising. Memorable moments were game-changers in the presidential races. Little chance of that happening over here.

Cut-aways and reaction shots to liven up live TV? Tuckers will be working the crowds in a crowded spin-room. Cut-aways to someone nodding sagely, shaking with rage or picking their nose are as much part of the controlled spin.

No follow-ups from the 'moderator'. No audience reaction. No questions targeted at a particular party leader. No chance to ask Brown why he keeps lying. No chance to ask Dave if he's a slick salesman. No chance to ask Clegg what he's doing there. The Orange Party prefers a good dose of Paxo stuffing any day.

But what to wear? Dark sober suits look good on telly as Nixon found to his cost. But a tie? Clegg's yellow streak is a no-brainer but Dave and Broon could clash with both having a bit of a penchant for purple.

Dashing Dave, Grisly Gordon or the other one? X Factor eat your heart out. An instant opinion poll will declare a 'winner'. A survey will give verdicts on performances. A poll 'worm' will crawl along showing who's making an impression with highs and lows.

Viewers will be looking for blood on the studio floor. Broadcasters looking for something to set the airwaves alight. Party leaders looking for their lines. Old Tuckers high in the gallery looking for the right shots and cuts when it looks too painful.

And hack Phil Page and hackette Polly Filler will be looking to fill columns and columns with endless copy on a debate about the debate.

The Orange Party's advice is to get down to the pub, stumble back with a take-away, slump on the sofa and shout at the telly. Used to work a treat.

But it beats watching another documentary on global warming. A good old ding-dong? PMQs delivered that every week when Brown could be bothered to turn up. But in a contrived, antiseptic studio setting with stifling rules? We'll see.

Top two pictures: Private Eye. Cartoon: Matt, Daily Telegraph

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