Monday, 12 April 2010


Election fever is capturing the nation. Well, it's capturing those who are thinking about voting at least. Thursday 6 May will see citizens go to the polls for the most tightly-contested election for a generation. But there’s another interesting twist to it this time. Thanks to pressure from three broadcasters, my good friend Prime Minister Gordon Brown has accepted the challenge of live televised leader debates. Nick Clegg and David Cameron will appear alongside Brown on ITV, Sky News and the BBC over the next few weeks, and it should make fascinating viewing.

However, there are concerns it will be dull, with a 76-point agreement document outlining how each debate will be edited and broadcast, leaving little room for spontaneity. Politicians are generally not the most exciting people you will ever meet, but viewers and broadcasters alike are hoping that sparks will fly and arguments will get nasty. That would make good television, and help reward ITV, Sky and the BBC for all the efforts they have put into making this happen. Sky even threatened to organise a debate and leave an empty chair for any leader who would not turn up.

Three televised debates are not going to swing the election. But the point of them is that they have never been done before in Britain, even though it is commonplace in many other countries, and should capture some decent audiences. I met someone at a graduate job interview earlier this year who said they were doing a dissertation on the subject of leader debates, which shows there is lots to say about it. My only hope is that it doesn’t turn out to be a boring pre-planned conversation between politicians who do not clash swords on anything controversial. How about we give them a few challenges like Total Wipeout or Gladiators [pictured]? Now that would be fun...

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I don’t watch soap operas like Coronation Street, Eastenders or Home & Away. I’ve had equal - if not better - entertainment from following Newcastle United over the last 14 years. And sometimes I just have a few moments where I have to enjoy it and remind myself why I became an honorary Geordie after Euro 96. The promotion of the Toon Army back to the Premier League last week was a fantastic achievement for Chris Hughton [pictured] and all the Magpies players. After all of the stress and disappointment of last season’s relegation, it has almost made up for it by doing so well this term. It's another part of the topsy-turvy story at St James' Park. Or should that be the @ St James' Park Stadium?

But the real work starts here. Owner Mike Ashley must ensure the same mistakes are not made again, and Newcastle restore their status as a decent Premier League side. We don’t need to spend silly money on new players this summer. January was a good example of how to do it - buy simple straightforward players who will do a good job for reasonable wages and won’t cost a fortune to buy. Mike Williamson and Wayne Routledge, for example, who have come in and done a great job. Even when Newcastle were going through a dodgy patch in January and February, they were still picking up points that have ultimately got them promoted.

I don’t want the club to be the laughing stock of the Premier League again. We’re in a great position now to go back up and remind people why Newcastle ‘The Entertainers’ United used to be everyone’s second team. Why not again?

PICTURES: The Independent, The Guardian, The Northern Echo