Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Seeing Gordon's Best Bits

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Seeing Gordon's Best Bits

Article excerpt

News that there's going to be a series of televised debates between the potential next leaders of the country--Gordon Brown, David Cameron and that other one--has met with a predictable series of objections. Politicians fear they won't get a fair crack of the whip. Politics is going to be "cheapened" by being given the TV treatment. We'll all be listening to empty soundbites, apparently. Style will win out over substance. We will be like the Americans. Imagine it--British society being influenced by the US!

Nobody wants a general election conducted like a reality TV show. We don't need to see Cameron telling the nation that he "doesn't know what he'll do" if he loses. We can live without Dermot O'Leary putting a consoling arm around a tearful Brown, and introducing a Coldplay-soundtracked montage of his "best bits" as a fresh-faced chancellor.

However, the much-quoted fact that more people vote in The X Factor than in the general election is telling. It's not, as conservative critics sometimes make out, a sign that we've become a nation of morons. It's just that TV, for those who still haven't cottoned on, is rather popular. As inventions go, it's been quite a success. Trying to treat it as an impostor that might undermine the democratic process is an attitude that's 50 years out of date.

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But also, when did we start sneering at the idea that politics is full of shallow soundbites? That's been the essence of politics for as long as any of us can remember. …

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