Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ask the Chancellors?

Perhaps strangely for someone in my job I really can’t abide political debates on television. I have never even managed to watch Question Time all the way through. I find these debates merely serve to reinforce my existing prejudices, and the shallow point-scoring makes me wince. I was convinced that the recent decision to televise a debate between the three main party leaders was a step backwards for democracy.

Or that was the case until I watched Ask the Chancellors on Channel 4 last night. Alastair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable lined up to make their pitch to be the next chancellor. There was nothing revolutionary about the format and I admit I initially watched it out of duty. But it made for fascinating television.

So why the change of heart? The point-scoring was still there, and I haven’t changed my mind about how I’ll vote. But it started to mine the complexities of some of the political debates around the economy and the faultlines between the parties. The leaders’ debates won’t be so “free”, but will hopefully be equally compelling.

But most of all the programme reminded me where so many of the voters’ concerns lie. Whilst the post-Crunch/pre-election messages of the Churches are focused on inequality and the need to ensure that those who didn’t benefit from the boom are not the ones who are made to suffer most in the bust, the studio audience appeared almost wholly concerned about the impact of economic decisions on individuals’ and businesses’ income. It was left to the moderator, Krishnan Guru-Murthy to ask whether the government was responsible for tackling inequality.

I still believe that the Churches are called to go to, in the words of John Wesley, “not to those who need you but to those who need you most”. But how should we meet the challenge to get these messages across to politicians and voters alike?