Personally I can't see what the big attraction was about the televised debates back in 2010, other than to definitively prove that style won out over substance in the case of Nick Clegg, which is surprising when you consider how things have subsequently turned out for the Lib Dems ever since that particular high point for the supposed third party of British politics.
I have to say that I have better things to do with my life than to sit there watching three, four, five, six, or even seven generally overpaid, overrated and out of touch party leaders try and outdo one another in front of the television cameras, as well as the purportedly live mixed audience that will no doubt have been specially bussed in by the various broadcasters. Well no thanks, if I wanted to watch an entirely artificial stage-managed political stitch-up on my telly then it's easier and quicker to view any of the weekly episode of the parliamentary Punch & Judy show that is PMQ's.
If I want to see David Cameron being personally disparaging to his political opponents, or to see him prove beyond doubt that he has a superiority complex, that he's arrogant, out of touch and desperate to have his colleagues approval, then you can see that any Wednesday lunchtime on the BBC. Any party leader that requires his brown-nosing backbenchers to offer up a highly questionable statistic about how well their individual constituency is performing, just so Mr Cameron can bask in the faux success of his governments economic policies, is probably not worth listening to anyway. After all, without the supportive audience he regularly turns to and addresses in the House of Commons, he's almost certainly not as clever, as funny, or as concise, as he no doubt thinks he is.
Then of course we'll have Mr Miliband, the PM's usual political sparring partner, along with his pointy index fingers, which should really be classed as a lethal weapon, because one day he going to take somebody's eye out with them. It's clear that he's an intellectual, although maybe he's too clever for his own good, to the extent that he doesn't seem to do so well when he's being barracked, or talked over, which shouldn't really be a major problem, as he seems quite happy to repeat himself and his points, again and again and again! Quite whether his own unique brand of statesmanship and gravitas will work in a television studio, where he'll be surrounded by hostile opponents and strangers remains to be seen, but so long as he doesn't come across as being a bit of a "Beaker" and isn't asked to eat anything live on stage then he will probably survive the ordeal.
The third and final "major" political figure in front of the cameras will of course be Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and Mr Cameron's Deputy Prime Minister. The broadcasters continue to refer to them as a "major" party ostensibly because they have fifty-odd MPs, garnered from the 2010 election when everyone "agreed" with Nick and he was mildly popular with significant swathes of the electorate. But that was before the Lib Dems put price over principle; and decided that personal access to ministerial offices and limousines was far more important that keeping any of their major manifesto pledges. Nick rather reminds me of the young and beautiful homecoming queen who thought it was a good idea to use her good looks to make money and to advance her career, but after five years then found herself in the most squalid of circumstances and with the most tarnished of reputations. No doubt though, Nick is still hoping that a little bit of lippy, a new hairdo, fresh underwear and come-take-me approach to either Labour or Conservatives will help re-establish their reputation as the fresh faced young girl of British politics.
Next; and entirely dependent on what particular criteria you choose to use when measuring political importance, there is either UKIP or the Green Party, both of which David Cameron has decided are "minor" parties, simply because it makes him feel better to believe so. As things stand at present we're asked to accept that the Greens are the fourth largest party, by virtue of their party membership, but that they don't automatically count dead or departed members, that they haven't made their subscriptions particularly cheap and that they're not currently achieving around 8% in most public opinion polls. They have one MP in the House of Commons, three MEPs in the European Parliament, they achieved a quarter of UKIP's vote in the last European Elections, control one of the worst performing councils in the country and have 172 local councillors.
However, all such things aside, now that Mr Cameron has spat his gold-plated dummy out and has got his way, the inclusion of the Greens into the leaders debate should certainly makes things interesting, if only for the variations of the speakers accents. No doubt the supporters of wide open borders will point to the sheer presence of Australian born Natalie Bennett as to why having no meaningful immigration controls is such a positive thing; and indeed is something that Ms Bennett herself is an advocate of. Unfortunately, anyone that might be hoping that the inclusion of the Green Party into the leaders debate might offer an alternative, reasonable, well thought out, or even partially costed set of policies for the future of our country might well be disappointed, as the running of Brighton & Hove council will testify to.
Quite why Nigel Farage is even bothering to participate in what is certain to be a fairly shambolic, tribal and misrepresentative affair is beyond me really. Bearing in mind that the media generally are unsympathetic to anyone other than the three mainstream legacy parties, it is difficult to imagine where the upside is for UKIP, whose message will doubtless get lost or diluted in the various verbal exchanges that are bound to result from seven or eight people all trying to trade insults, party representations and policy clarifications at the same time. Given their previous history, it is hard to imagine that the broadcasters won't, either deliberately or inadvertently, give extra airtime to the likes of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, not because they have anything more important or intelligent to say, but simply because they are the Labour and Conservative party leaders, so therefore most likely to be the next Prime Minister of the UK.
Even though Mr Farage might be successful in a straightforward television interview, or even in his one-to-one debates with Nick Clegg, television appearances can often be a double edged sword, depending on whose taking part, whose asking the questions, whose allocating the time to each participant and what part the actual audience plays in the proceedings. On the basis of only seven or eight party leaders attending the proposed televised debates, it has been calculated that each participant will only get about thirteen minutes of airtime throughout the entire program, which would be great if there were no challenges, interruptions, nobody taking more time than they're entitled to, but what are the odds on that happening? In the event that Nigel Farage was given less time, or asked fewer questions than any of the other main party leaders, wouldn't that have the effect of making him and his party more peripheral and therefore less important? Where's the party's electoral advantage in that?
Even today, we have had more regional political leaders threatening possible legal action over not being invited to participate in the planned leaders debate, with both Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party and George Galloway of the Respect Party arguing that they too should be included, along with the likes of Sinn Fein and any number of other smaller parties. What began as an act of selfish political pique by David Cameron has now developed into a mockery of the democratic process, ostensibly because Conservative Prime Minister has been advised by his political strategists that he just might win an electoral majority without having to run the risks associated with having to publicly debate Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and more importantly Nigel Farage, in a far less secure and controlled environment than he usually finds in the House of Commons.
Where typically during Prime Minister's Questions Mr Cameron can lie, prevaricate and even deliberately misrepresent without any sort of immediate rebuttal or redress, in a televised debate he would then be open to counter; and for a political coward like David Cameron, he would much rather be thought a liar than proved to be one in front of millions of potential British voters. How else could one explain his obvious reluctance to take on the challenge of facing his main political opponents, in a medium that Mr Cameron is said to be so at home in, especially as he is said to have honed his much talked about communication skills in a professional business environment as a Public Relations executive?
The very idea that Mr Cameron's insistence on the Green Party's participation in the debates is to enable the democratic process to be more widely available to everyone is risible, as is his assertion that UKIP is a minority party, unless of course he's willing to publicly admit that in European terms at least the Conservative Party is even more minor than Nigel Farage's? The truth is of course that Mr Cameron wants to deprive UKIP of the electoral status that it deserves and has earned, as the third mainstream party of British politics; and in order to do that he is maliciously using the perceived popularity of the Green Party to underpin his own highly tenuous political argument and to preserve his own current electoral polling position. There is nothing democratic, fair or equitable about Mr Cameron's argument, unless of course you regard narrow political self interest as being democratic, fair or equitable?
One can only hope therefore that in order to bring the very idea of this sorry shambles to a speedy end that one or more of the various regional political parties are forced to seek a legal redress to their potential exclusion from the leaders debates, thereby bringing an end to the entire concept before it becomes any more of a soap opera than it is already!