Could we again end up with result no-one thought possible? (From Impartial Reporter)

The election campaign is entering its final week and things are starting to heat up.
It’s becoming quite ruthless overall with members of political parties going on the attack at the first sniff of a threat, not quite caring that what they are saying isn’t always the most levelled of statements. I suppose it’s partly because locally at least, emotions have been running high for most of the year and there has been little time in between elections in which to sit down and reflect on the wider picture.
While none of us wanted to face another few weeks of electioneering, I am quite glad that this time around it’s a general election that we’re looking at rather than yet another concerning the stagnant Stormont.
It means that we’re able to take some much-needed comfort from looking across the pond. The squabbling there reminds us that pettiness is not confined only to us and that it is not only our political leaders who are refusing to communicate effectively.
Theresa May had previously said that she was not willing to take part in any televised debates and that was later followed up by Jeremy Corbyn sticking his own heels in and basically saying that if she wasn’t going to, then neither was he. Childish? Quite. Irresponsible leadership? I’d say so. Showing little respect to the electorate as a whole? Definitely.
It’s one of those few areas where the politicians in Northern Ireland are able to show themselves in a better light than their Westminster counterparts. We’re all more than aware of the current showdown between the DUP and Sinn Féin that has led to six months of intransigence. Yet despite those well-documented issues, our leaders are still able to share a stage as they at least think that the viewing public deserve to see some kind of a debate.
When I heard that Sky and Channel 4 were teaming up to broadcast a debate on Monday night, I was intrigued.
Did this mean that May and Corbyn had suddenly had a change of heart and decided to set aside their personal differences for the greater good? It certainly seemed that way as the programme was promisingly entitled “May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10”. After all, any sporting fixture that I’ve seen advertising one team versus another tend to involve both teams taking to the pitch together and battling it out for victory.
Yet again, politics proves to be confusing as this turned out to be a debate by another definition. The benefit of an actual head-to-head debate is that different people have to answer the same questions and that is where you come to make some kind of overall judgement as you’re able to score each person against the same criteria.
You’re also able to see how well they handle themselves when faced with an opponent who is equally as knowledgeable as they are and who will be waiting to pounce on any misinformation. Debates also provide for sheer entertainment as viewers are able to see how the others make faces in the background as an opponent speaks or sometimes we get really lucky and see them lose the temper that they’ve tried so hard to keep in check.
Instead we saw Corbyn first followed by May: like ships in the night the two never even saw each other. The show was in two identical halves, with each leader first having to face a series of questions from the audience before sitting down to be grilled by Jeremy Paxman. I found it to be fairly predictable as the questions that each were asked were specific to their party policies or their previous actions. Corbyn was asked about his history with the IRA and plans to scrap zero-hour contracts while May was asked about the so-called “dementia tax” and her U-turn on Brexit.
It was a small audience on this occasion and the two broadcasters came out in advance to say that they did try to make sure that it was a balance of political persuasions but no matter how hard anyone tries, you’re always going to have a few who are loyal to the party in there who make no efforts to mask their disdain for the opposition. It’s nothing new. We’ve seen it happening in our debates too, where each representative can be assured of applause no matter what they say. It means that they can be assured of support and if they’re lucky enough, a planted question can make it through the net and they’ll be able to regale us all with their past successes and dazzling plans for the future. Again, that’s just standard and we see it happening every week at Prime Minister’s Questions such is the wonder of our democracy.
It didn’t really tell us anything but then again, I suppose that televised debates be they in this form or the more traditional never really do. We don’t tune in thinking that we’ll have completely changed our minds in a couple of hours. The questions that we want answered are rarely answered and only specific issues are addressed. In this election campaign, the focus seems to be on Brexit, immigration and terrorism. We’re hearing very little in regards to issues that are affecting us more directly like health or education. While they are devolved issues, the issues faced are broadly the same no matter where you are and yet all they are worth are a few well-placed soundbites.
Within Northern Ireland we haven’t had much either in the way of debates. Sure, ITV and BBC have their political programmes that have been interviewing party leaders but again they’re being quizzed individually rather than each party answering the same few key points that can be directly compared. It’s less of a “tell us what you will do for us” and more of an “explain your past actions”: nothing explicitly election centric.
If nothing else, we can take heart that in a week, it’ll all be over for better or for worse. At the outset, Theresa May seemed totally confident that she wouldn’t be packing her belongings up in boxes come May 9 but as the day grows closer, the opinion polls are placing her and Jeremy Corbyn within a few points of each other which is probably closer than they have been physically in may long weeks. Similar polls have placed our constituency as one of the main ones to watch as margins are likely to be very tight yet again.
With the way things have been going over the last few months here, we may well once again arrive at a result that no-one really thought was possible. Anything could happen once those polling stations open up and it’s down to us to do what we can to create the parliament that we want to see.