Tuesday, 29 April 2008

From Podiums to Polling Booths: The Final Debate

You may wonder why the award-winning journalist Andrew Gilligan has directed to this obscure two year old blog post. The following links may give you a clue:

As I stepped into the plush foyer of Cadogan Hall last night, I knew that I was dangerously out of place. My ripped jeans and scuffed trainers clashed with those of the Tory boys and ladies of leisure around me. And on every surface of the Sloane Square theatre, Back Boris and Kick Ken leaflets had been recklessly spread around. I decided to get some air.

Outside and the Sloane Rangers were gathering. As they walked into the foyer Back Boris campaign member Jonathan Hoffman was there again. I first came across Jonathan at the infamous No-show Bojo hustings. Even though Boris had failed to turn up, Jonathan led a group of Back Boris campaigners in a chant comparing Ken Livingstone to murderous dictator Robert Mugabe. Back then Jonathan had been full of beans and followed his slurs with angry and persistent interruptions in the debate.

I don't know what's happened since then but last night he seemed to be going through the motions. Gone was the shouting and the Mugabe comparisons and in their place was a series of well remembered but drearily delivered slogans. Maybe even he has got election fatigue.

After taking a leaflet and oyster card holder from Hoffman, I headed back inside and got a seat on the balcony. Sitting behind me was BBC London political editor Tim Donovan, and creeping up behind him was none other than the holiest of holies himself, the right reverend Andrew Gilligan.

Gilligan didn't find much to talk about with anyone and instead slithered off to join Iain Dale at the back of the room. There the panel of pundits sat with their backs to the candidates and delivered a live in-depth analysis of a debate that hadn't actually started.

As the event actually did get underway it soon became clear that Boris Johnson was on home turf. The crowd dutifully laughed at the same four jokes that Boris has delivered for the last four months and sat in stony silence when Ken delivered his pitch.

All hopes that the debate would cover new ground faded away as we got question after question on cronyism and Ken, and racism and Boris. Candidates were allowed just one response to each question and whenever they looked at risk of getting into a genuine and interesting debate, Adam Boulton stepped in to break up the fun.

The event became even more frustrating when the adverts interrupted the debate just after a set of questions had been taken from the audience.

Adam Boulton told the audience that the debate would continue in the meantime but Boris complained that viewers would miss the answers. We were told that the radio coverage was still continuing, but then all of the speakers in the venue were cut. The candidates continued to answer questions as some of the audience continued to ask them. And as the makeup women fluttered around, a gang of photographers descended on the stage. Quite simply, it was the single most chaotic live event I have ever seen.

The rest of the debate descended into a flattery-fest as both Boris and Ken fought to see who could be nicest to Brian whilst Brian tried to be as nasty as possible in return. But once the cameras turned off, the crowds left and Andrew Gilligan was out of view, Boris and Ken were left on the stage and suddenly they looked and sounded like old friends.

And like Ken's embrace of Boris as the two walked off the Question Time stage last week, I saw a moment of truth behind the stage-managed indignation of recent weeks. Because behind all of the personal attacks that the candidates, journalists and bloggers have made over this campaign, it is easy to forget that this is a contest between two well-meaning and likeable characters. And although Boris' has not quite been able to bring himself to look Ken in the eye when they are standing at the podiums, I suspect that they would quite happily share two stools at a bar.

And while it will come as little surprise to readers that I will be voting for Ken Livingstone on Thursday, it will not be on the basis of any inherent nastiness in Boris Johnson or any inherent wonderfulness in Ken. It will be based simply on the policies they have spelled out and their abilities to carry them out.

As Dave Hill points out today, there are many simple and straightforward reasons to give your vote for Ken and to not give your vote to Boris. And for all the fun of these debates and the nastiness of the character attacks in the papers and the blogs, I hope that it will be these simple points that people will consider when they go and place their vote.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Slithering is about right. God that man is creepy