With less than two months to go until the UK general election, instead of debating how to run the country, party political leaders have been debating whether to take part in television debates on how to run the country, and this pre-debate (before we get anywhere near a real debate) takes the form of a non-debate between incumbent prime minister David Cameron, who says he will participate in only one such TV debate and that his position is non-negotiable, versus opposition leader Ed Miliband, who plans to pass a law to ensure that party leaders must take part in a whole series of ‘people’s debates’ on TV, so that full participation will be non-negotiable.
In this non-debate about TV debates as a platform for debate, it has been suggested that Cameron could be ‘empty chaired’ in a head-to-head with Miliband.
Perhaps the UK general election has been patched in to a scene from The Chairs(1952), the ‘tragic farce’ written by post-war playwright Eugene Ionesco and featured in Martin Esslin’s influential study of the Theatre of the Absurd.
An elderly couple prepare the chairs that guests are expected to sit on when they come to hear the Old Man’s revelation of what may be the meaning of life.
But he and his wife end up jumping out of the window. Likewise British politics – out thewindow while the stage is preoccupied with the theatre of the absurd.
Or have we been transported back to the general election campaign of 1992, at a time when Jeff Koons was top of the postmodern pile of art-as-pastiche, and Conservative leader John Major gave us a kitsch caricature of politics and government?
The grey man in a grey suit was duly re-elected – the po-mo PM for a half-decade of‘ironic detachment’. Back then, when the first Iraq War was famously played ‘like a computer game’, nothing seemed to matter too much; and you have to be relatively comfortable for nothing to matter too much; and John Major’s Tories were best placed to make it stay that way.
Today the prospect of a televised Ed Miliband talking to an empty chair is clearly absurd, but perhaps not absurd enough.
If BOTH chairs were empty, only then would the television studio be truly representative of the debate we’re not having – not even now, with just 50 days untilthe vote.
Featuring two empty chairs in a 50-minute party political special, this show would have to be called The Election Day Today.
You couldn’t make it up….but they have.