ANDREW ADONIS on how the questions of accountability and honesty surrounding the candidates to be prime minister have made this the Prince Andrew election.
In the past week three candidates have been grilled extensively about their right to lofty status: Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Andrew Windsor. All we know so far is who is third.
This is turning into the Prince Andrew election. The live viewing figures for his interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis – two million – were astronomic by comparison to political programmes, and the playbacks will continue for decades. Tellingly, there were more questions in the ITV leaders’ debate about the prince than about Russia. There were none about Russia.
The contrast is in the politicians’ favour. I have never seen a British political leader do an interview worse than the prince. Whatever you think of their political views, as practitioners of accountability Johnson and Farage are Beethoven and Mozart to Andrew’s third triangle in the school orchestra.
I’m struck that we learned far more from Andrew than Johnson and Corbyn. And it was stuff that we ought to know. An appalling vista of royalty, the pinnacle of our national elite, was revealed by the evasive and unrepentant prince, while we knew all about the prime minister and the leader of the opposition beforehand. Democracy is about continuous accountability and we need more of it.
Not just at home. Where is the leaders’ debate in Hong Kong as children are tear-gassed and protesters arrested for wearing masks to avoid arrest? Where was the debate between president Xi and his opponent when China’s ‘people’s assembly’ voted to extend his ten year term without limit?
Back to Russia, it is hard for Vladimir Putin to debate with his rivals. They have either been assassinated, are in hospital after poison attacks or in jail on trumped-up charges. Although that is no excuse for him and his henchmen to intervene in British politics with money and black arts. Or for this to be covered up.
The trouble, of course, is that in today’s populist world, even in democracies with plenty of exposure, liars and people manifestly unsuited and dangerous aren’t necessarily found out. There’s a good chance one will get elected here on December 12, as well as re-elected in the US next year.
The populist media – which alas now includes the BBC on a bad day – rewards the very buffoonery, lying, bluster and misogyny it ought to be calling out. The supreme manifestation is Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine, a professional comedian, who won by a landslide because he was the most authentic candidate in the election. He played himself.
The irony is that Zelensky’s show – Ukraine’s equivalent of The Thick Of It – is more satire than comedy. Zelensky himself, although elusive and maybe naive, is less damaged than those he was up against.
This now includes Trump, whose attempt to enlist Zelensky in his re-election campaign could prove his undoing. Few in Washington expect the current impeachment to unseat Trump immediately, but as a slow burn it could destroy him in much the same way as the Watergate impeachment brought down Nixon. The allegations and evidence are far more serious.
I suspect it depends whether the rising tide of scandal and illegality gets Trump before the presidential election next November. Until then he is at the mercy of something – however inadequately – approaching law and justice. By the election it is Fox News and presidential debates which he will dominate with his Big Lie and outsize personality.
Never outgunned by Trump, there is a Johnson scandal brewing with common elements: His outrageous suppression of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russian state interference in British politics, including the funding of his leadership election and the Conservative party.
If only we could debate it before the election.
See page 29 for the story of Britain’s first televised election debates