The pathetic and ridiculous over reaction by the Vote Leave campaign over the decision by ITV to invite Nigel Farage to debate the EU with David Cameron reveals an insight into the way in which such debates and hustings are arranged and how the usual power brokers operate. The fact that Vote Leave is threatening ITV should Michael Gove or Boris Johnson become the next Prime Minister, in the hope of changing the line up shows just the sort of people who claim to want to ‘return sovereignty’ from the EU to who? Oh yes to themselves as MPs and Peers so they can continue to demonstrate their concept of democracy. The idea of a debate between Cameron and Farage is presumably seen as good TV by the programme makers and avoids the Tories from having their civil war erupt on our screens. On a personal level the less I hear and see of my MEP via broadcast studios the better. The fact is that these debates need to be a platform for ideas and information, not simply about personalities and persuasive rhetoric. I am not convinced that either Cameron or Farage need more airtime to disclose their rhetoric and it is pretty certain they have no more ideas to impart, but the same would be true with Johnson or Gove.
It is clear that Political parties and their leaders are used to calling the shots and determining how such debates run. They get upset when others make decisions that they disagree with, and are prone to throw their toys out of our pram. This is as true of debates on the referendum as it is of hustings for elections. Having participated in a small number of local hustings events I am aware that the experienced party candidates try to set the tone for the debates, and a limit on who can speak primarily to advantage themselves. The hustings for the London Mayoralty were almost all limited to the people and parties that organisers believe were the credible and popular candidates. That is not democracy, it is control and censorship. If candidates have a track record of offending audiences then a decision to withdraw their invitation is reasonable, but when the decision is taken in order to give enough more time to the ‘main candidates’ then there is something wrong with our system.
A similar issue of control and anger has broken out amongst the Labour Party members who are despairing that Plaid Cymru has managed to get UKIP and the Conservatives to support their candidate for First Minister. It is of course an unusual mix but it must be refreshing for the UKIP and Conservative voters to feel that their representatives might actually be heard speaking on behalf of the nation. The snide comments I have seen on twitter from Labour activists show just how tribal and focused these people are on getting their people into power, irrespective of the wishes of the people who did not vote for them.
The outcome of democracy is sometimes messy, and making sense of it depends on an understanding that it is the voters, not the politicians who are supposed to be in control.