So the debate about the debate continues.
Yet at one point this week it started to get more interesting. An unlikely triumvirate comprising the editor of the Daily Telegraph, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian and the director of communications for Google called on David Cameron to reject the televised debate in favour of one shown to an online audience.
Natalie Bennett for the Greens and UKIP’s Farage accepted, while Cameron, Clegg and Miliband said they were considering the idea. In an interview with BuzzFeed earlier this week the PM sounded positively keen.
It seems that Cameron has now said he will take part in a seven-way TV debate in April – and the whole concept of a digital debate is now in the balance.
If the key players do agree to it, the debate could launch the start of the first truly digital election. But perhaps more importantly, it would deliver yet another blow to conventional broadcast channels as our main communications platform. Are politics going the same way as music and publishing? If you can’t get your message across in the way you want it via conventional means – then you find another way without the restrictions.
It would certainly be defiant response to those broadcasters threatening to ‘empty chair’ Cameron. Whatever your political hue, broadcasters trying to set the agenda is not a comfortable scenario for democracy. But for commentators of the digital revolution, an election debate of this kind would signal another major landmark in evolving attitudes about communications in our time.
There’s just one aspect of this whole question that puzzles me though. Why did Cameron choose BuzzFeed to signal his openness to an online discussion? Apparently just over 10,000 people watched the interview – only about half the number who had watched a similar conversation with the Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe. And, according to the Telegraph, he attracted only a fraction of the number of Facebook ‘likes’ given to an owl featured the same day. It’s true that owl was rather lovely – and presumably very wise, of course too.
Cameron also committed the verbal equivalent of ‘dad dancing’ – referring to the website as ‘The BuzzFeed’ instead of simply ‘BuzzFeed’. It’s clear that despite being a notoriously smooth communicator, he forgot about using the right medium for his message.
The urgency of this debate means negotiations about whether it will go ahead or not are progressing as I write. But if a digital debate does take place, its underlying significance as a digital milestone could ultimately be more far-reaching than the election result itself.