First televised debates in the U.K.

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Long after the United States, and even after Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia, politics in Britain is moving into the television age — the era of televised electoral debates, that is.

On Thursday evening, the heads of the three main political parties in Britain will gather for the first of three live TV clashes set to take place before voters go to the polls May 6.

The debate is being billed as a seminal event for British society and television. Optimists see it as a chance for leaders to reconnect with a jaded electorate. Pessimists fear that it will further the ascendance of show business over substance in British politics.

“We’re suddenly going to have a significant portion of the British population spending the length of a football match watching three people talking about politics,” said Stephen Coleman, a professor of political communication at the University of Leeds. “I think what we watch Thursday night will become a water-cooler moment on Friday morning, which is something we get very rarely in British politics.”...

“It’s kind of Cameron’s to lose,” said Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. “For Brown, expectations are so low that he can only gain.”

The main task for advisers to Mr. Cameron, the son of a stockbroker who counts King William IV as an ancestor, has been to make him more palatable to Middle England, where class resentments remain strong. To try to connect with ordinary voters, Mr. Cameron has embraced some of the Web 2.0 tactics of the Obama campaign....

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