Dave Snowden

The poverty of modern debate

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Luckily I attempted an on line checkin yesterday as otherwise I would not have discovered that I had been booked to return on Sunday rather than Saturday.   Now while staying in Trieste would not have been a punishment, missing the flight to Singapore with no ability to rebook would have been.  Either way, things in Italy always work out if you are relaxed so after a flurry of phone calls I discovered that I was now going to make it back on Saturday, but I would have to get up at 0400 and spend nine hours between flights at Heathrow.   The latter was the real pain as I had at least four hours work to do which made a trip into London for a walk along the Thames or similar not practical.  Either way I settled into a corner of the lounge well away from the food that I am not meant to be eating anymore and got stuck into to clearing email.

In between times I took the odd break to read a newspaper and one article in the Independent inspired this post (for those waiting for the modularity/granularity one its a day or so away).  There is a debate in the UK as to whether or not the leader of the protest party UKIP should be allowed in the leadership debates at the next General Election.   Now I'm not fussed about that, its a wait and see based on electoral performance and better to expose Farage than make him a martyr.  What really incensed me was the news on focus groups conducted by the Tory party.

According to the Independent they have been running video tapes of the Ed Millibrand, Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party to groups of voters and have discovered that the long people listen to him the more they thinks he makes sense.   On the other hand if they only get a short hit then he looked and sounded a bit odd.  So their strategy to counter this is to reduce debate to soundbites. So the argument goes they are looking for an excuse (and UKIP may provide it) to pull out of the debates so they can manage the process.

Now this to my mind is indicative of the poverty of politics and debates that we have allowed to take place.   Instead of a politician speaking to a large audience for an hour or so, they now manage snippets of platitudes on television interviews.  To survive that you need the skills of an orator (Lloyd George is portrayed in the picture which heads this post) that we should expect of a politician, but you also had to sustain an argument and demonstrate that underneath it all you had some sort of ideology or set of principles that would inform your decision making and would present a choice to your electors.

Television interviewers in their turn focus constant interruptions of their interviewee into competition as to who can twist words, but not ideas to have won a competition for the trivial.  We don't train people to think or question anymore, but simply to herd behind their tribal leader.  I remember sitting in a bar in Columbus Ohio during one of the Presidential debates last year and no one was listening to the arguments, they were baying for or against verbal sock-it-to-me punches.  In the first debate it seemed to me that only any reasonable assessment Obama won the argument, in part because he attempted to deal with the issues rather than manipulate the language.

We get, as they say, the politicians the media think we deserve.

 

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