ITV are advertising that the first leaders debates will be shown on ITV HD. Whilst ITV are always short of content for their HD output and many might wonder what the point is of watching a TV debate in HD, it might be rather interesting for political geeks and those with a knowledge of the history of big political debates.
The famous debate that all leaders must have in the back of their minds when they are planning how they hope they will resonate with the electorate is the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate. The first debate between them saw Nixon turn up after a bout of illness, still suffering from an infected knee (which saw him walking painfully with a limp), and in an attempt to seem more controlled that Kennedy, saw him refuse to be "made up" by the TV company. Instead, his own team applied "lazy shave" to hide any 5 o'clock shadow, whilst Kennedy's team added make up to JFK to make him look well tanned. The result on screen was that Kennedy looked healthy whilst Nixon looked pale and gaunt.
Now it is often said and written that Nixon lost this debate because he was sweating profusely (something that will be very obvious on an HD TV tomorrow if any of the leaders to sweat ), but in truth, as a BBC documentary explained the other day, Nixon messed up by seeming to agree with Kennedy on too many points, leaving people thinking Kennedy was right and Nixon did not stand for anything different. With the argument gone that Kennedy was a risk to US safety, people voted for the charismatic JFK in large numbers despite Nixon supposedly having the better of later TV debates.
So will we learn anything in HD ? Arguably not. I think we all know what the leaders look like. I think Brown will look poor in HD, but he gaunt in standard definition so this will be no shock or surprise. Likewise, if the leaders are seen to sweat, will this win or lose votes ? I doubt it.
So whilst ITV may be excited about the debate being shown in HD, I can't see many people bothering because at the end of the day, it is the arguments and messages that are important, not the looks.