>Taking the lead

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The recent decision to have three American-style leaders debates in the build up to the general election is one that could, and should, have a major effect on UK politics.

Initially I was against the idea. But now I am pleased that we will have a vehicle for a full and genuine policy debate. PMQs all too often get reduced to cheap points scoring, and often the BBC’s question isn’t much better. Of course the leaders will be there to sell their respective party’s manifesto, but the extended period of time they will appear for allows for a fullness of debate we do not normally have in the UK.

On a purely partisan basis the debates are good for the Liberal Democrats. The public often responds well to Nick Clegg when they see him in high profile situations. The positive reception afforded to him on the back of a live webchat on MumsNet demonstrates as much. It is also worth pointing out that both Clegg and Cameron won leadership of their respective parties after strong showings in similar TV debates.

Now that this group of leaders has agreed to the debates it is hard to imagine their successors easily reversing the decision. The participants need to show this not a sham, but a test for who deserves to be the Prime Minister.
As I said, I was initially skeptical. I thought leaders debates cemented the incorrect assumption that we vote for a Prime Minister, not our local MP. David Cameron obviously quite fancies this idea too, if his shiny new poster is anything to go by! But with so many disillusioned by politics, what better time to try something new and (metaphorically!) throw the leaders in the lion’s den. Due to the resentment facing politicians, the three men must not come across as over-briefed policy wonks, or go off in the search for cheap soundbites. Again, I actually think Clegg will do well on this count. It is time for them to show they are leaders in the truest sense; people worthy of taking the highest office in the country and of inspiring the public. If they can do that, we may just witness the best piece of reality TV yet.

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