Tom Richmond: A real TV debate would be something to shout about

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MY instinct is that there should be televised debates between the main party leaders ahead of next year’s election. This, after all, is supposed to be a civilised democracy and it always puzzled me that it took British politicians 50 years to embrace this forum after John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon’s historic exchanges changed the course of the 1960 presidential election in the United States.

Yet I did feel that the three exchanges in 2010 between David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg did distract from day-to-day election campaigning – too much time was spent by the leaders preparing for the debates rather than meeting the electorate – and Monday’s 90-minute clash on Scottish independence between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling did not inspire me with confidence.

This is why. The First Minister and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer spent so much time shouting at each other – and trying to trip each other up on the veracity of various statistics – that they shed more heat, and light, on the issues confronting Scotland such as future currency arrangements in the event of a “yes” vote, the fate of the Trident nuclear deterrent and projected North Sea Oil revenues.

Though an opinion poll afterwards pointed to clear win on points for Salmond, both men came out of the ill-tempered debate with diminished reputations.

The SNP leader came across as being slippery and failed to convince sceptics about how his country would be able to pay its way in the world while Darling struggled, surprisingly, to articulate how Scotland will prosper in the United Kingdom if voters opted for the status quo. At times, the pair made Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons look tame in comparison.

What would I like to see happen? I’d probably opt for one head-to-head debate next March between Cameron and Miliband, the two men who are vying to be Prime Minister after 2015.

During the campaign itself, there should be one evening when the Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and Ukip leaders can present their case to the country. And I’d like to see each party’s spokesmen on key policies encouraged to debate with their opponents so the electorate can hear from the people who hope to be in a position to shape the future of foreign affairs, law and order, education, NHS and the environment – they, too, need to convince voters that they are ready for the onerous responsibilities of office.

If this can happen in a constructive manner, TV debates will enhance the democratic process. However, if they’re a simply a contest to determine who can shout loudest, they will be counter-productive.

IF Scotland votes for independence, will the BBC continue broadcasting weather forecasts for the new country? After all, they omit the Republic of Ireland.

PERHAPS the coalition’s critics may like to refine their criticism of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in light of the political and economic turmoil in France where two Socialist-led governments have now been dissolved within five tumultuous months.

With President Francois Hollande’s administration accused of following German orders on public spending cuts, economic growth proving to be elusive and unemployment running at 10 per cent, the bloodletting inside the Elysée Palace offers a total contrast to Cameron’s government.

As such, it is to the credit of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that they have held their nerve on the economy – even though the public sector deficit is still staggeringly high.

How many people thought the Cameron and Clegg alliance would last this long when the two leaders came together in the national interest in May 2010? Not many, I venture to suggest. And, in many respects, this Government has been far more stable than the last Labour administrations which became destabilised by the poisonous feud between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

YOU can tell the election is drawing nearer when politicians start discussing the possibility of free parking at hospitals, the latest wheeze of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

I don’t blame him. Why should the family and friends visiting the seriously ill and dying have to pay charges that have become extortionate? Yet I do disagree with Tory backbencher Robert Halfon who would like charges abolished altogether. Hospital car parks would just be clogged up by selfish drivers looking for somewhere to leave their vehicle for free while they pop into town.

As such, there needs to be a system that is manageable – the NHS is hardly in a position to subsidise free parking when England’s 140 hospital trusts are facing a combined deficit of £750m.

A QUESTION to weather-watchers out there – are the seasons out of kilter and is Yorkshire facing the possibility of a very harsh winter temperature-wise? I ask this after a retired Coverdale farmer said he had never seen so many berries on the trees – he said it was nature’s way of making sure the birds had sufficient sustenace for winter – and a tree close to Richmond Towers is already shedding horse chestnuts. Is the wind to blame for this, or is this also evidence of Autumn’s early arrival?

I CAN only assume that the over-rated, under-performing injury-prone England footballer Jack Rodwell has hidden talents after his £10m transfer from Manchester City to Sunderland.

Proof that many top flight footballers have more money than sense, he complains that he dropped his mobile phone in a pool while training; had to move hotel because the one booked by Sunderland is oversubscribed and that his Australian-born wife Alana has noted “it’s a bit more windy” in downtown Whitley Bay. Can anyone explain how this donkey has been capped three times by England? Not only does he think his mobile phone is a necessity while football training, but he also seems incapable 
of renting a house or understanding basic geography. No wonder England are also-rans.