Are the general election TV debates a turn-off?

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TELEVISED election debates have proved a turn-off to voters in South Tyneside.

The country’s political leaders have been put under scrutiny by a series of debates on Sky, ITV and the BBC.

With the election on May 7 set to be the closest in living memory, the debates were seen as one way the individual parties could win over floating voters.

Controversially, Prime Minister David Cameron chose to bypass this week’s latest five-way debate on ITV, and his former deputy, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, was also absent.

Over the course of all three TV gatherings it has been generally accepted that Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has enhanced her reputation – even though she is not up for election to Parliament.

But there was apathy to the whole political process among shoppers the Gazette spoke to in King Street, South Shields.

Would-be voters were not convinced the debates would have any impact on how they cast their vote in 19 days time.

South Shields postal worker Derek Heslop, 64, delivered a positive verdict on the performance of Mrs Sturgeon in Thursday’s ITV debate.

Mr Heslop, who retires later this year after 40 years pounding the streets of the town, said: “I have watched the debates but I don’t really think they have changed my opinion on how to vote. All they do is give a slightly different insight into the character of the leaders. 
 “Strangely enough I thought the Scottish nationalist leader came across very well. She seemed a straight-talker. I liked they way she came across, even if I don’t agree with all her views. Ed Miliband gave a steady performance, he held his own. He came across as an honest sort and you can’t say that about many politicians.”

Mike Wood, 25, a kitchen porter at the Littlehaven Hotel in South Shields, watched part of the challengers debate online.

He said: “I think the TV debates are useful. They give you an insight into what the party’s stand for. I live in Westoe and I’m planning to vote Green.

“The debates didn’t change my view, they only reinforced my commitment not to vote for UKIP, I disagree with what they stand for.”

Mark Oliphant, a doorman at Roxanne’s nightspot in South Shields, said: “I was working so I didn’t get to watch it, but to be honest I think they are all saying the same thing. There is no difference between any of them. I don’t vote, but if I did it would probably be UKIP because I see immigration as a big issue.”

Retired Westoe Colliery miner Brian Oley is also disillusioned with the political process.

He said: “I’m not interested in the TV debates, I haven’t watched any of them. What I do know is that if the Tories get in again they are really going to cruficy us. I’m hoping Labour is elected.”

Stay-at-home South Shields mum Danielle Rowell, 26, is a rarity nowadays – a Liberal Democrat voter.

She said: “I haven’t watched the debates. They are just all about politicians toeing the party line.”

Ex-Reyrolle worker Peter Redpath, 54, of Canterbury Street, South Shields, added: “No TV debate is going to change my mind because you can’t trust what politicians say.”