- Labour Party and Business: A Difficult Relationship?
- Chameleon Conservative Cameron Shows True Colours
- An Election Reflection for a Majority Minority
- Mhairi Black: Giving Politics a Makeover
- Galloway Threatens Legal Action Over Election Result
- Voter Turnout: What The Numbers Tell Us About The 2015 General Election
- Looking At The Reaction to the Election Explains its Result
- The Polls Were Wrong Because People Lied, it’s That Simple!
- Russell Brand “Resigns” from Politics following General Election Result
- It’s Not The Cold War Anymore, We Don’t Need a Nuclear Deterrent
- The Future of Labour: Who Will Be The Next Leader?
- The Future of the Liberal Democrats: Who Will Be the Next Leader?
- The Future of UKIP: Who Will Be the Next Leader?
- A Tale of Three Ends
- The Tory Legacy
- If the Party Leaders were characters from Friends…who would you vote for?
- The Ten (Well, Six) Commitments: Is Stone Legally Binding?
- Tuition Fees: A Hollow Attempt to Pander to the Student Vote?
- 6,417 Ed Milligrams – What Do You Actually Vote For?
- Boris Johnson to become Gangster Rapper
- Political Engagement: The Calm After the Storm
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview: Green Party’s John Spottiswoode.
- Parliamentary Candidate Interviews: TUSC’s Sue Atkins
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview, Independent Candidate Chris Daviss
- “I don’t think the Liberal Democrats should be in government just for the sake of it” – An Interview With Nick Clegg
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview, TUSC’s Nick Chaffey
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview: Conservative’s Jeremy Moulton.
- Should Young People Be Made To Vote?
- The Nationalist Parties
- No Votes for Women?
- None of the Political Candidates Ticking Your Box? There is Another Option.
- The Other Parties
- Liberal Democrats Party Profile
- The Green Party
- Labour Party Profile
- In Defence of the Coalition
- Why Labour Should Win the Election But Won’t
- The Protest Vote: The Weapon of the Disenfranchised.
- Why Young People Must Use Their Vote
- An Interview With Natalie Bennett
- What Will a Multi-Party System Mean for Britain?
- Tuition Fees: Must Try Harder Ed
- Science and Policy
- This Election is Far Bigger Than Party Politics
- Parliamentary Candidate Interviews: Ian Callaghan, Green Party
- Parliamentary Candidate Interviews: Lib Dem’s Adrian Ford
- Paliamentary Candidate Interview – Labour’s Darren Paffey
- Parliamentary Candidates Interviews: Lib Dem’s Eleanor Bell
- TV Debates: The Crucifixion of David Cameron
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview – Labour’s Rowenna Davis
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview, the Green Party’s Angela Mawle
- Can We Trust Politicians Who Act Like Schoolchildren?
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview – UKIP’s Sandra James
- Manifesto Focus: Labour
- Why Nuclear Weapons Are Imperative For The UK’s Security
- Southampton’s Role in the General Election Should Not Be Overshadowed by a Sausage Roll
- Just When You Thought UKIP Couldn’t Do Anything Right…
- What the Hell Do You Want?
- Which Political Leader Are You?
- The EU: To Be or Not To Be
- Your 2015 General Election Candidates
- What a Silly Sausage: Southampton UKIP Candidate Accused of Bribery
- UKIP Party Profile
- Conservative Party Profile
- The Leaders Debate: The Insurgents, The Pretender & The Incumbent
- SUPA’s Short and Sweet Guide to Voting on 7th May
- TV Debate: Clash of the Titans
- Leaders Debate Brings Hope For Progressive Politics
- TV Debates: David Cameron and Ed Miliband Versus Britain
- 14,000 Voters Missing From Electoral Role in Southampton – Register to Vote Now!
- Men’s Rights Party Set To Contest in General Elections
- A Royal Coup? – Queen Guitarist Brian May Considering Standing for Election
- Debating Over Debates
- Galloway Demands Inclusion in TV Debates
- The General Election 2015 – A Disunited Kingdom?
- 99 Days To Go: The Most Unpredictable Election Yet!
- Poll Indicates Demand for Green Party to be Included in Election Debates
- Have You Registered To Vote?
- Is Sol Campbell running for Parliament?
- Salmond to Stand as MP
- Students May Hold the Key!
- The Green Party Should Not Be Included in the 2015 General Election Debates
- Parliamentary Candidate Interview: Alan Whitehead MP
- What’s at Stake for Students in the General Election?
- It’s Time For Politicians To Get Down With The Kids
- The Debates Debate
- Who Will Run The Country in 2015?
- New Year, New Government? New Politics?
- Newly Elected Itchen MP Accused of Helping UKIP Secure Labour Votes
The leaders’ debates were an innovative feature of the 2010 General Election, giving the people of the UK the chance to see the principal contenders for their electoral affection go toe-to-toe over the major issues of the day. So far in 2015, however, they have proved an innovative way for the Conservative Party to waste everyone’s time.
The History of TV Debates
The original three debates, featuring Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, took place over a three-week period in the run-up to the election on the 6th May. The televised verbal duel between the main contenders have been a feature of US Presidential elections for years, but – despite the efforts of previous party leaders to get them introduced since 1964 – they have not been historically used in Britain.
The main objection to this head-to-head style of pre-election politicking is that it was suited only to a Presidentialstyle of political leadership, which is not the way we do things in Britain. At a General Election, in theory, we vote for individual MPs, not for a political party and certainly not for a party leader.
The reality, of course, is that UK politics has become ever more Presidential over time, with the election and ten-year premiership of Tony Blair – the most President-like leader Britain has ever had in peacetime – sealing its fate. We vote, at election time, in most cases for the party we most identify with rather than the individual candidate that we best like.
So, the debates were introduced – at the insistence, mainly, of opposition leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Now, however, Cameron is trying to get out of them. Recognising that the old argument wasn’t going to wash in light of his own support of the debates just five years ago, he has turned instead to a plethora of others.
The original proposal for the 2015 pre-election debates – all the way back in October – was for a debate between Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, a second debate also including Nick Clegg, and a third also including UKIP boss Nigel Farage. However, several smaller parties contested this decision – in particular the Green Party, who argued that they were performing on a level more or less equal to the Lib Dems in the polls.
This began a long saga of political tussling over how exactly the debates should be held. The broadcasters initially rejected the Greens’ demand for inclusion, prompting legal action. Cameron then declared he would not take part without the Greens. Miliband, Farage and Clegg wrote letters to the PM demanding he meet their challenge, but Cameron refused to budge.
In January, the broadcasters announced revised plans: One head-to-head between Cameron and Miliband and two seven-way debates also including Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. These plans were then confirmed on the 23rd of February, with the first seven-way to take place on the 2nd of April, the second on the 16th, and the head-to-head on the 30th of April – just a week before the election.
Political Quibbling and David Cameron’s Cowardice
These plans weren’t perfect. The DUP and Sinn Fein – the two principal Northern Irish parties – both complained that if the SNP and Plaid were involved, they should be too. George Galloway, the single MP for the Respect Party, made a similar argument – if the Greens were to take part, with just one MP, then his party ought to have a chance to speak too. These points are both valid criticisms.
To my mind, the correct solution would be to have a debate between the leaders of all the parties standing nationally (Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens) and then separate debates featuring the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish leaders of those parties along with the nationalists. The head-to-head between Cameron and Miliband, as the only two realistic candidates for Prime Minister, also should go ahead. But this is really a side issue.
Whatever the form of the debates, the main thing is that they should happen. In a system where the policies of political parties, and increasingly the calibre of their leaders, is important to how people cast their votes, we need to be able to see the people clamouring for our support make clear unambiguous statements of their views and then defend them. As David Cameron said back in 2010, they are essential for our democracy. And yet, he has proven the greatest block on them occurring of all.
His latest objection is that the debates ought not to take place too close to the election, and therefore there isn’t time any longer to stage the three debates which have been planned. The fact that the main reason that there is no time left is his own refusal to agree to the broadcasters’ plans is clearly not something which bothers him. Instead, he is now calling for a single debate to take place before the end of March, including the seven leaders who the broadcasters have identified. The other seven-way and the head-to-head are to be scrapped.
Both Cameron and the broadcasters have dug in their heels, the latter threatening to empty-chair the PM if he doesn’t turn up. The problem with that, though, is that they might run afoul of pre-election impartiality rules if they allow Miliband to speak for 90 minutes in the ‘head-to-head’ without Cameron present. So, it becomes a war of attrition – each side trying to batter the other with enough political smears to make them cave in.
Frankly, the reason for all this is that David Cameron is running scared. His delaying tactics have all been a ruse to fill out the larger debates with as many leaders as possible, in essence to reduce the airtime of Nigel Farage, who he knows will cut percentage points into Tory support with every minute he gets to speak.
His objections to the head-to-head debate are less obvious, but he fears Miliband may prove more competent in debate than people will expect him to. Most people’s opinion of the Labour leader is the media-fuelled caricature of him as a bumbling buffoon, and whilst he certainly isn’t the most charismatic leader Labour have ever had, he is a far more skilled public speaker than is perhaps apparent.
At this point, it looks increasingly unlikely that the debates will happen. If they do, they will most likely be reduced to Cameron’s ultimatum of the single seven-way debate before the short campaign starts on March 30th. Since this will mean having them before the parties have even published their manifestos, this makes the entire process rather less meaningful.
Through his constant prevarications and craven cowardice, David Cameron has all but scuppered what he himself claimed were debates ‘essential to our democracy’. The Prime Minister’s commitment to the ideals of ‘democracy’ have surely to be questioned, therefore. Once again, a leading politician has put politicking before principles and sacrificed the people’s right to make an informed choice about their leaders on the altar of grabbing a possible head start in the political race for No. 10.
It is a sickening display, and he should be fully ashamed of himself. But I doubt he cares.
This article is cross-posted with the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist