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We're Getting This Debates Business All Wrong - Here's Why

20/01/2015 13:37 GMT | Updated 21/03/2015 09:59 GMT

MPs often act like animals in the Chamber. But last week, during Prime Minister's Questions, they literally acted like animals in the chamber - by doing interesting impressions of poultry.

The sight of late middle-aged men, squawking, thrusting their necks out and waggling their elbows about is not one I'm going to forget in a hurry. And not in a good way. God bless modern democracy.

It all kicked off when Cameron and Miliband accused each other of running scared of the TV election debates.

Cameron has said he won't do them unless the Greens are involved, Miliband has said he's fine with the Greens being involved (but he's not really). Clegg and Farage have told us how important they are, and the SNP has said EVERYONE should get involved and make a real party out of it.

Then they all started writing passive-aggressive open letters to each other and making rude finger gestures.

At the moment, it's looking like the debates could end up including four parties, five parties, eight parties, an empty chair, Al Murray, or possibly just not happening at all. It's all deeply cynical political power-play, and I won't be at all surprised if it ends up looking like this recent debacle at a Ukrainian political debate.

Anyway, the thing is, we're going about this entirely the wrong way. If we must get all presidential and judge the party leaders on performance (as opposed to, oooh, I don't know, policies) there are far more interesting ways to do it. Here are three:

The hot drink test

Every time I work in an office, I'm struck anew by the British attitude to making other people beverages. It's an absolute minefield, because a.) we're very fussy about our tea and coffee and b.) we pretend we're not fussy at all.

This means that after communal tea rounds, everyone ends up moderately dissatisfied, peering surreptitiously at what's been made for them but completely incapable of saying anything about it.

I do think that how someone makes a beverage reflects substantially on how they approach life as a whole. Personally I'm deeply suspicious of decaffeinated coffee drinkers. What's the point? They're up to something.

And what about tea choices? Tetley or lapsang souchong? I suspect there would be a stampede as all the leaders tried to align themselves with the tea brand drunk by everyday, hardworking, kitchen table, white van people.

And - I'd take a long hard look at any leader who actually waited the recommended amount of time for tea to brew, or a cafetiere to be plunged.

Wars have been started in the time it takes for coffee granules to do their thing. Any candidate who waits for a teabag to steep is hardly going to be decisive in a conflict against dark forces. Just mash it about and get on with it.

The After Eight team challenge

We want a government that can work together, right? The After Eight game is an excellent test of this.

Friends and I played this at a hen party a while back, and learned all sorts of interesting things about each other. Granted, in that instance things were slightly complicated by a semi-nude butler and a blindfold, but the essentials are the same.

For anyone unfamiliar with the After Eight game, here's how it would work:

- Each leader chooses four party colleagues and lines them up, conga-style;

- Each leader takes an After Eight mint, removes it from its wrapping and places it upon his or her forehead;

- Once the starting gun is fired, the leaders must work the mints from their foreheads to their mouths (no hands). This always has the pleasing side-effect of making people look very silly indeed.

- Once it is consumed, the next in line steps up and the whole business is repeated. And the winning team, of course, gets to run the country.

This, I believe, would be a highly effective way to expose internecine strife. Nothing makes a chocolate mint melt on your face like heckling from your own side. And personally I would pay good money to see a team combining the English and Scottish Labour parties. 'Huge chocolatey brawl' would not cover it.

The student house trial

You can tell a lot about a person by watching how they live with others. And all this writing of open letters reminds me very much of a fridge note war that erupted in our student house at university.

I seem to remember it started with "don't clean round things - clean UNDER them!" and climaxed in Pube-Gate - a long-running controversy over whose boyfriend had left unwelcome remnants in the soap.

Imagine the party leader equivalent:

"Please put the f--king bin out or I'll leak your cash-for-honours scandal. Thank you."

"To whoever left Trident on the Clyde - put it back in your own room or I won't replace the loo roll."

"I know who screwed me on the tuition fees thing. Don't pretend it wasn't you. If you're looking for your bike lights you'll find them UP YOUR BUM. Ta."

Who would do their share of the washing-up, including proper rinsing? And who would finish the milk and then put the empty container back in the fridge? I think we'd get all sorts of insights we weren't expecting.

Read more of Serena's sketches over on her blog - Cowdy Calling