TUESDAYS night’s television debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was a waste of time. It was not really a debate at all and the candidates were given little chance to elaborate arguments.
Had each been interviewed by Andrew Neil it would have been worth watching.
Or a debate like the one between two candidates for Austria’s presidency, without a moderator, would be exciting.
Still, I am very sorry that we have television debates in the UK. They belong in America, not in a Parliamentary system like Britain’s.
Apart from being uninformative, they concentrate too much power in the hands of television companies and television journalists. They already have far too much power, despite the existence of social media.
They are hungry for power over politicians and politics, partly to make money and partly to control the political agenda. We all see clearly now that political journalists are political actors.
Ask poor, ill-advised Prince Andrew what he thinks about the power of the mainstream media.
Boris should have refused to take part in the Tory leadership debates too.
Giving the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at the state-owned but very Left-wing Channel Four (which produced Cathy Newman’s hilariously unsuccessful attempt to skewer Jordan Peterson ) complained: ‘British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn’t held one major press conference or given a major television interview since he came to power in July.’
She might have added that both he and Jeremy Corbyn refused to go on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme. In the Prime Minister’s case he could have expected an uncomfortable ride from broadcasters who instinctively dislike him, his party and Brexit.
Why Johnson has anything to do with Sky News is a mystery to me, after Beth Rigby told him to his face that he had ‘brought shame’ on his party by saying burka-wearing Muslim women resembled letterboxes.
When she said that, there were, understandably, dissenting noises from some bystanders. This caused one Jessica Simor QC to tweet:
‘The road to fascism – their boos at Beth Rigby made me shiver.’
The reason why people such as Ms Rigby and Ms Simor hate Boris is mostly because of Brexit, and the reason they hate Brexit is because they hate the idea of asserting loyalty to nation states, rather than international, abstract principles.
Johnson is not good at TV debates. Jeremy Corbyn has been, yet everyone said expectations for him were rock bottom. Clearly, though, the debate did not matter.
I liked Michael Deacon’s joke in the Telegraph: ‘Mr Corbyn was anxious not to seem like the fuming crosspatch we see so often in the Commons (where he invariably looks like a gardener indignantly shaking his fork at a group of youths whose football has just landed in his prize marrow patch).’
It is doubtful what people remember from debates. I hope they remember Mr Corbyn’s bizarre and revealing remark: ‘We’re a society of billionaires and the very poor.’ Mr Johnson ignored this very easy goal.
What more people will take away is the demagogic assertion that the Tories intend to ‘sell out’ the NHS ‘to the US and big pharma’.
I don’t know how to define populism but it is the Labour leader, not the Tory, who is the demagogue. Mr Corbyn would be a populist too if he were to achieve, as opposed to court, popularity.
From the first debate, in 2010, all I remember is Gordon Brown continually saying ‘I agree with Nick’, all three party leaders praising Pope Benedict XVI, whom Brown had recently invited on a State Visit in order to win Scottish Catholic votes, and all three piously, or impiously depending on what sort of piety you favour, condemning the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.