THE BLOG

Massed Debaters

03/04/2015 16:15 BST | Updated 03/06/2015 10:59 BST

The cameras zoomed in on the set of an expensive quiz show for which the prize was priceless. Against a vibrant blue background stood seven lecterns of such violent, rainbow hued luminosity they appeared to have been reclaimed from a Pink Floyd concert. Chris Tarrant did not appear but the contestants were in want of a life line.

The party leaders stood motionless as they were introduced, like a row of stunned mullets. They looked like the most boring exhibit in Madame Tussauds. A rank of automatons with their electric plugs pulled out, they waited their turn to shock into life and make their well rehearsed pleas for our favours.

The presenter had come as a medical professional from the Starship Enterprise. Her tunic looked like it could stop bullets. She seemed ready to ask you to either open wide for a dental examination, or to order the jump to light speed.

She started by announcing that we viewers could keep up with instant analysis on-line and could Tweet while the show was afoot. That sounded like too much youthful media multi-tasking for the average age of the sofa bound witness.

The set appeared to be the bridge of Captain Kirk's space craft, the debaters having been beamed there from the planet I'mgunna. I'm gunna do this and I'm gunna do that, they said, expelling enough hot air to release the studio from the Earth's gravitational force and propel it skywards.

The statistics fell like hailstones: 2,000 more of this, £8bn less of that, 50% more than before and two thirds less in the future. Was anyone buying any of it? Was anyone watching? ITV was unsure - they went for just one advert break in a two hour show. That must have made for excruciating watching in their financial department.

Who advertised during that break? It was a cosmetics company, which by concealment strives to cover the truth, and an insurance firm that seeks to protect you from a future that lies in the hands of one of the combatants on show.

The first question came from a teenager in the studio audience. He was probably the only person of that age who watched the whole thing.

Each speaker had a plan. They also had a prepared answer to every question. I am sure we were told that they would not receive advance notice of the questions. If you believe that, I have some Payment Protection Insurance I would like to sell you.

Every so often, they would forget their media training and address each other, turning their profile to the television viewers. Mostly, they stared straight down the camera and poured their focus group approved concerns all over us like runny honey, the better to emphasise their empathy.

At several points in the broadcast, all seven were shouting over each other while the chairwoman attempted to create order. It looked as easy as wrangling kittens.

They were all different from all the rest. They each said so themselves, making them all exactly the same in that regard at least.

By the end, pollsters of every stripe told differing stories of divergent outcomes. Each party won and each party lost, depending on the poll you read.

One thing is indisputable: there's two hours you are never going to get back. And there is another four whole weeks of this to go!