Stop smiling you bloody fool!
At a bit of a loose end last night, I decided to bite the bullet and watch the UK pre-election debate. I didn't expect to be particularly impressed, and the speakers more or less lived up to my expectations. On the other hand I was a little perturbed at my own reaction to the debate and the very idea of it as a whole, in that as I approach 40 I sense that I'm becoming an elitist old fart. Naturally I can't argue with the idea that politicians should be accountable, and should have to present their case to the people, man, but in a televised debate it's inevitable that presentation skills become paramount, style over content.
Gordon Brown is at an obvious disadvantage here, not only in terms of age but also of demeanour. Whilst it might be stretching it to say I began to sympathise with him, at times I couldn't help cringing at just how shit he is at playing this game. In all three debates he's come third of the three party leaders in performance ratings, and it's no surprise. Clearly whoever is coaching him is making an utter balls-up of it. By far the worst of it is Brown's horribly awkward, horribly creepy smile, which was all too painfully evident last night. It's been remarked upon before, why does nobody in his team tell him to stop doing it? Or has it now become a kind of involuntary nervous tic? I was reminded of the story about the Kennedy v Nixon debate in 1960, in which those who'd heard it on the radio thought Nixon had won, whereas those who'd seen it on TV thought the opposite, and I wondered whether Brown might have fared better if he'd appeared with a paper bag on his head.
As for the other leaders, Nick Clegg is not the new Obama. He mostly managed to come across as reasonably competent, in my view the best of the three, but his constant promotion of himself as the new and fresh candidate is already beginning to look a bit old and stale. I was slightly baffled to see the polls saying that Cameron had won the debate, since I thought he was dire. I can't pretend to be neutral here, I've always had a deep antipathy towards the Conservative party, but then again I won't be voting for any of the three main parties, so maybe I'm not all that biased. As a man who's openly modelled himself on Tony Blair, how else can he appear than as a vacuous, smarmy toff?
I realise I haven't mentioned the substance of the debate myself, but quite apart from the fact that I don't want this to become a party political rant, that is kind of my point – I wonder how many people who watched it will remember the specifics of what was actually said, or whether the most enduring image of it all, resurfacing in voters' nightmares up and down Britain, will be the Brown smile. If politics has become just another form of entertainment, it's not very good entertainment, is it?