l WHATEVER the result of the election, one issue will remain unresolved. Has the British electorate lost its good manners? The question has been posed by several experienced observers during the past few weeks. Watching the BBC Any Questions? programme in which all three party leaders appeared consecutively, it occurred to me that the treatment being meted out by the studio audience to the prime minister would have been unthinkable in the course of an American presidential election. The same thought must have come to the mind of journalist Janet StreetPorter when she was present at the annual White House correspondents' dinner in Washington last week, attended by President Bush. Writing in The Independent she said she had come to the conclusion that America “possesses in spades the one quality that has been missing at every level from our election campaign: good manners”. She said that a comparable event in Britain would have been marred by “hecklers, the flashing of bare bottoms, the waving of placards and unconrollable ranting”. Certainly there have been some very rough moments during the election. However, Mr Blair deliberately encouraged some of them by his “masochism tour” in which he chose to show TV viewers that he could take criticism, especially from women. John Prescott has also enlivened proceedings by some blunt talking. Jeremy Paxmann was his usual ungracious self and John Humphrys undoubtedly went over the top with Charles Kennedy but not with the prime minister with whom he conducted a forensic but fair interview. In comparing British election manners with American we have to remember that the President is Head of State and as such is entitled to a degree of respect that a mere Prime Minister cannot expect. And, in any case, much of the aggression seen in the British public's questions to politicans stems from their belief that only such bluntness will get a straight answer rather than a bland and evasive one. Elections are not for the timid, nor should they be.


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