Confession: I watched _almost_ every minute of the leadership debates, the exception being the first ten minutes of the second as I had set my Sky+ incorrectly! I found them to be very useful and, with minor caveats – like how useless the first two moderators were – I think they are a significant step forward for democracy in the UK. Why do I say this? How in particular to respond to the idea that they represent a regression, a capitulation to celebrity culture?
Well, in brief, we get a very great deal of information through non-verbal communication, and that information is relevant to our decision making, including the decision as to who we wish to be our leaders. We cannot escape displaying our identity when people see us react in difficult circumstances – and it seems perfectly sensible to make a voting decision based upon that identity.
The idea that policy must be placed above personality privileges a particular way of understanding politics – dare I say the anointed way? – and is one of the pernicious products of the idolatry of rationalism in our society. (Too many p’s in that sentence!) Of course, the blowback against that idolatry has its downside, but I don’t think watching 4.5 hours of debate between party leaders counts as a symptom of not taking matters seriously – and the uptick in voter registration tends to support that. The debates have engaged people in the political process, and that is surely healthy.