Rowan Williams Lambasts Opinion Poll Analysis And Televised Debates As The 'Marketisation Of Politics'

Williams (left) does not approve of televised debates, such as the 2010 broadcast featuring David Cameron, Nick Clegg (right) and Gordon Brown
Williams (left) does not approve of televised debates, such as the 2010 broadcast featuring David Cameron, Nick Clegg (right) and Gordon Brown

A former archbishop of Canterbury has lambasted the "marketisation of politics" in Britain, blaming US Presidential-style televised debates and analysis driven by opinion polls as factors in making Britons "worse people".

Writing in the New Statesman, Rowan Williams, who is a book reviewer for the magazine, cited these two political strands as the reason why society has become increasingly "mistrustful" and easily swayed by "populist manipulation".

Critiquing David Marquand's Mammon's Kingdom - An Essay on Britain, Now, Williams’s entry into the debate comes ahead of the likely televised leaders debates for the 2015 general election, an event that could include a wider spread of political parties, including Ukip and the Greens.

Live debates have been an integral part of the political process in the US since the Sixties, however the format was first trailed in the UK ahead of the 2010 general election, pitting the then-prime minister Gordon Brown, then-opposition leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg over three separate broadcasts.

Opinion polls have become similarly ubiquitous in the UK, with parties using daily polling to get a better handle on public reaction.

Williams writes: "As Marquand says, 'free choice' has become 'a self-validating mantra', from which we can't escape because we cannot act collectively in a purposeful way. The relation between producer and consumer, now the norm for every imaginable human interaction, locks us in to a devil's pact of collective foolishness with no long-term outcome except disaster and universal impoverishment.

"The paradox Marquand might have flagged up even more clearly is that we are an increasingly mistrustful society (for the pretty obvious reason that we lack robust social bonds and tangible commitments to the common good) and yet, at the same time, an increasingly credulous society, apparently vulnerable to being swayed by various forms of populist manipulation.

"Marquand is unsparing on the corrupting effect of leadership (whether putatively right or left, Thatcher or Blair) that seeks to appeal to a mass public while bypassing the mediating structures and networks that allow patient critique and scrutiny. The 'marketisation' of politics, signalled so eloquently in presidential-style televised debates and the hectic analysis of opinion polls, not only erodes our political health, it actually makes us worse people; and Marquand has no qualms about such fierce judgements of value.

"A properly open society - one in which there is pluralism, honest public debate, social mobility and controls on spiralling inequality - requires certain virtues: 'fortitude, self-discipline, a willingness to make hard choices in the public interest and to accept responsibility for them'. We cannot survive without a moral image of ourselves as individuals. Such a moral image is the only thing that will allow us to be sceptical without being cynical, critical without being destructive - the only thing that will allow the possibility of genuine social trust and a shared social goal."

Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney

The Debates