TV election debates and interviews show nobody in politics is having a real conversation

The debates have been a hard watch.

One of the worst things a politician can do is break promises. The hope you offer by pledging £350 million a week to the NHS, not raising tuition fees or taking the bins out soon dissipates if you get caught lying.

It erodes good will among the electorate, tarnishes your record and, as the Liberal Democrats found out in 2015, can turn an entire voter base against you.

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Unfortunately, that means in this election politicians are less inclined to make promises, or indeed give straight answers at all. In the face of a decimated public purse, our leaders have instead decided to obfuscate, distract or simply avoid answering the tough questions. This isn’t just about policy, but who they are as people. Instead of reality or being honest with voters, our leaders speak as if trying to avoid a trap, saying nothing instead of the simple truth.

Are debates actually good?Are debates actually good?
Are debates actually good?

It was bad in the debates and got worse at the Sky TV’s leader event – a format that saw Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak showcase the very worst of politics, playing the game rather than having a real conversation.

For the Labour leader, his issues arose when asked why he claimed former party Jeremy Corbyn would be a good prime minister. The real answer is ‘no, he’s a total crank, I had to pretend for the sake of the party and my own career’. Instead, the Labour leader stressed he knew they were going to lose and he was doing it for his colleagues. There was no answer as to why he backed Corbyn, and that he, in effect, lied.

It was the same for the Prime Minister and most of his ministers, all of whom have decided if they’re going to lose, it may as well be in disgrace by defending the £2,000 tax rise figure. Based on estimates by Tory party officials, Rishi Sunak continued to say it was from the civil service, neglecting to mention they had to base it on his own party’s dodgy figures. It’s dishonest, it’s embarrassing and it’s where our politics is.

Sunak also said net migration is down 10 per cent “since I’ve been in charge”, which is true. But it's also up four times what it was in 2019. Data isn't hard truth, it's used selectively to defend the indefensible. It’s why the Institute for Fiscal Studies accused both of a “conspiracy of silence” of the fiscal challenges and spending cuts on the horizon. Voters don’t need lying by omission, they can handle the truth. But our leaders deny them it.

The two main parties aren’t alone in this deceit. Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey simply won’t answer questions about the coalition, and the Kate Forbes is claiming the SNP lifted “100,000 children lifted out of poverty”, shortly after denying the Scottish Government failed to spend its EU funding. She’s wrong on both counts, but it’s preferable to politicians to pretend everything is fine rather than admit they’re human, or actually are really bad at their job.

Politics is a game, but it shouldn’t be. Next time you hear a politician say they “want to be clear”, take note of what they say next. It will almost certainly not be an answer.

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