May 31, 2017 : Ruth Boyle

Televised debates have me reaching for the remote

Is it any wonder people don’t engage in politics?

Being on Twitter on Monday night, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole world was tuned in to ‘The Battle for Number 10’. Quick wit, shrewd analysis, mild rage and casual observations filled my timeline as university friends, political commentators and colleagues, past and present, had their say on the proceedings.

It was interesting, then, to log on to my Facbeook page while the battle raged on Channel 4. My Facebook is dominated by a different demographic from my Twitter and, by contrast, there was little or no conversation about the debate.

My Facebook feed wasn’t interested because they are part of a wider demographic that aren’t engaged in representative democracy. People from my hometown weren’t as interested and people who I hadn’t met in a recent work environment were less bothered by May’s avoidance of questions and Corbyn’s views on the monarchy – and why would they be?

If you were to tune in to the debate, on a hunt for information about where to place your ‘X’ on June the 8th, you’d obviously have been bitterly disappointed.

Paxman had clearly looked in his dressing room mirror before walking on to the stage, repeating after himself ‘I AM THE BIG MAN, I AM THE BIG MAN’ until his ego overwhelmed his ability to pose incisive questions.

I’m still none-the-wiser about Theresa May’s plans for the dementia tax cap, her proposals on education, or her Brexit plan. It became abundantly clear why she has until this point avoided the televised debates – as the New Statesman have said, the tactic was apparently to ‘bore the dissent out of listeners.’

For me, and apparently most people, Jeremy Corbyn came out on top, but the Labour leader’s interview with Paxman focused firmly on his past with there being very little opportunity for voters to envisage how a Britain under Labour would look.

Then again, does any of this actually matter when debates are something of an echo-chamber, broadcasting to the politically-engaged and preaching to the converted?

Televised debates bring out the worst of our politics and bring no accountability. The format speaks to the oft-repeated allegation that all politicians are the same as our political leaders resort to similar tactics to navigate questions and shout over their ‘competitors.’ We sacrifice the things people want like real change and policy detail for the boxing match that adds nothing of substance to a tired political discourse.

For the people our sector supports – those struggling to access quality social care, reliant on foodbanks, seeking employability support or struggling through the ‘family cap’ – there would have been nothing of real comfort about what the next Parliament will bring. For third sector organisations themselves, wondering what the next Government will mean for their work and funding, the debate didn’t provide any clarity.

Turnout in 2015 was 66.1%. Only 29% of MPs are women and it’s unlikely that we’ll see any significant improvement in women’s representation at this election. The 2015 election actually saw representation of disabled people decrease to only 1% of MPs.

High-tides of independence referendum political engagement are fading into something of distant memory as many perceive our politics as resuming ‘business as usual.’ We still need to work out how we can encourage people to ‘switch-on’ to politics and what’s happening in their communities, even if they save themselves the torture of the televised interviews.

That requires a new way of doing things. Let’s start by dropping the aggression. I’m looking at you, Paxman…

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle