The various proposals for TV debates before the 2015 General Election have provoked reaction from all sides of the political spectrum. The Green Party demanded inclusion from the start and now both David Cameron and Nick Clegg are calling for new proposals that take ‘minority parties’ into account.
This has forced the main broadcasters to present alternative plans which include what Ofcom terms as ‘minority parties’ such as the Greens and the SNP.
The TV debates were designed to make elections more democratic by giving members of the public the opportunity to question party leaders directly. It is ironic that this can now be seen as another illustration of the alienation of voters by politicians.
Some, including Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of ‘running scared‘ over the TV debates when he refused to take part unless the Greens were included, insisting that their exclusion was unfair.
This change in policy from the Prime Minister’s initial view on the issue meant that the proposals had to be revised. Initially broadcasters threatened to ‘empty chair‘ Cameron if he didn’t turn up to the debates. However, this was soon changed and a revised plan was presented this Friday. This new plan includes two seven party debates between Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru and a third ‘Prime Minster” debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
What initially appeared to be the ability of Ofcom, the regulator which is responsible for broadcasting, to dictate the pattern and representation of the debates by excluding ‘minor parties’ worried some. Journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy tweeted that he was worried by the amount of power Ofcom seemed to have in relation to debate, which were meant to aid people in making their own choices.
I'm also a bit troubled by TV regulator Ofcom seeming to have such power in our democracy
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) January 14, 2015
The issue also produced heated exchanges in Parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions. Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of ‘running scared‘ and making a ‘pathetic excuse‘, calling for his participation along with Nick Clegg. Cameron asked why Miliband was ‘so chicken’ when it came to having the Green Party included in debates.
@David_Cameron Come on David Cameron, the broadcasters have invited us, the public expect it, just say yes and stop making excuses.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) January 8, 2015
Some have suggested that the reason Labour didn’t want the greens included in the debates was due to recent polling figures, which show Labour having the lowest level of support it has had in 5 years and the Greens enjoying their highest level of support for 20 years. It has also been suggested that David Cameron’s attempt to include the Greens in debate plans was a way of stalling them and making them less prominent due to the risk that a head to head debate with Ed Miliband may not benefit him and his image.
It remains to be seen whether all parties that are involved will accept the new debate proposals. In a joint statement the broadcasters that are organising the debates (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News), said that all parties will receive formal invites and they will ’empty chair’ any party leader who refuses to take part.
Controversy also still exists over the new debate proposals. While they now include the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP, a number of parties in Northern Island have expressed their dismay over the fact that they have not been allowed to take part. The DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party all said that they should be featured. First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, said that excluding the DUP – which is the largest party in Northern Ireland was an attempt to ‘to marginalise Northern Ireland from the national debate’. Respect Party MP George Galloway has also said that he should be included.