The leaders’ debates: a very British kind of revolution

“They were downloading not debating” was Simon Hoggart’s snap verdict tonight. The snap polls average out at about 30% all round. Clegg holding, not running away with it. Cameron showing recovery.  Brown halts slide but still coming last. My mind wandered to a lateral thought of our time, prompted by the unexpected question: Will you still welcome the Pope to Britain?

Even in these cynical times how many have dreamt that so many elites would have made such a tremendous cock-up as our politicians over  expenses, bankers over bonuses and bishops over basic morality – simultaneously? Managementspeak diagnoses like “lack of accountability ” and ” transparency” just don’t cut it.

Not so long ago, in Lenin’s Russia or Franco’s Spain the lynch mobs and the firing squads were out. Nowadays there’s hardly a Marxist peep. And more: no one’s even noticed the absence of ideology. People’s rage and frustration is channelled through mild questions before an obediently silent audience in the Leaders’ Debates. The topmost elite is still in charge, though they’re about to shuffle the pack..

Society hasn’t collapsed. The UK unlike Ireland hasn’t suffered welfare cuts and even those aren’t 1931-type cuts right up to the breadline. Our equivalent of revolution is guarded talk of coalition, something that has never before been the outcome of a British election. I suppose that’s progress of a kind.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London