Skip to content
By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

The big election loser? TV debates

Frank McKenna has not been impressed by the format of the various TV debates that have taken place through the course of the General Election campaign.

I have to confess, I have not sat through a single election TV debate during the past seven weeks in what has been, lets face it, a pretty dull and turgid campaign.

From the moment I heard Julia Etchingham challenge Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak to explain what they would do to fix the NHS “in 45 seconds”, followed by Marj from Margate making a statement/asking a question, to demonstrate that ITV was forcing the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition to engage directly with voters, it was clear to me that the television companies were more interested in creating entertainment programmes, rather than offering serious political platforms that would enable the issues of the day to be genuinely explored and debated.

Ironically, they ended up neither entertaining nor informing the relatively small number of viewers who tuned in. 

The Sky head-to-head, with Beth Rigby interrogating each leader for twenty minutes, before letting a studio audience loose on them, was marginally better than ITVs effort; BBCs Question Time suffered, again, with the notion that it was more important to encourage audience participation than give leaders the opportunity to offer comprehensive answers to complex questions.

This was amplified by the ridiculous decision for the questioner to always have the last word: “Are you satisfied with the response” asked the BBC Question Time host Fiona Bruce, to which the answer was, predictably “no” almost every time.

And so onto this week’s final showdown, again back in the BBC studios. Facilitator Mishal Husain had apparently managed a debate between seven political luminaries quite well earlier in the campaign. I’m afraid on Wednesday evening she struggled.

Sunak was allowed to continually interrupt Starmer for the first half of the debate – and then Starmer started to ape his opponent’s behaviour for the final 45 minutes of what was, according to Labour and Tory supporters I spoke to afterwards, a tough 90-minute watch.

Once more, this interminable nonsense of making the debate an entertainment programme, saw issues such as education, homelessness, and the Middle East, ignored – in order to allow some muppet who thought he was smart to insult both men by asking, basically, “are you the best that we can do?” What a pratt! And who at the Beeb thought it was okay for that question to be put to Sunak and Starmer? 

During the 10 ‘O Clock news programme that followed, the BBC political editor Chris Mason compounded this BBC faux pas by suggesting that this – arguably the daftest question asked throughout the campaign – was the ‘highlight’ of the audience/leader’s exchanges. I despair!  

We elect governments in this country not Presidents. The TV debates were about as informative as a conversation with a drunken skunk, as entertaining as an England football international. Audience figures were woeful.

Hopefully, this American import can now be put back in its box. At the next election the PM and the LOTO, whoever they are, should tell the TV companies ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

Downtown in Business