There can be no excuse for our 3 major broadcasters, working together as they did to come up with such an incompetent set of proposals as they announced yesterday. Not only do they have substantial resources to allow a meaningful level of engagement with viewers but as broadcasters they have huge editorial talent to advise them on the changing shape of politics in our nation. That said they were bound to come in for criticism by all sides whatever decision they arrived at. The level of pressure applied by Political Parties to such issues comes clearly into focus when one is a candidate in a non aligned position. The blood appears to literally drip down the face of the parties as they tear at one another and broadcasters if they feel they are being denied an millimetre, gram, or millilitre of advantage over all of the other parties and Independent candidates. Although no one will call for a space at any of the 3 ‘leadership’ debates for a nominal Independent voice, we may well have more candidates in May 2015 who have no party identity than any party will put up. All of us would benefit from some level of discussion that explains what the leadership debates are intended to achieve and the chance to challenge this thinking.
If as Sky and Channel 4 are proposing, we are to have only the two potential leaders of a final coalition, then at least this is a credible position for all of us to understand. It may be at odds with the democracy we can participate in, but perhaps it will give us a different way of observing the tired and discredited form of debate that takes place in PMQs every week. However none of us get to choose the Government based on such a binary set of options. Perhaps if this is to be one of the debates, we should have a group of perhaps 3 -4 candidates on each side to at least reflect the nature of Cabinet Government that operates in the UK. If the party leaders dominate or facilitate these debates we will get a very different grasp of our potential Government.
The BBC proposal seems to be the most bizarre. Once you go beyond the two main parties, the inclusion of Nick Clegg but not Natalie Bennett or Nigel Farage, let alone the leaders of Plaid, SNP or even the DUP seems to make no sense. In 2010 the Lib Dems were head and shoulders ahead of both the Greens and UKIP, and so as the only credible National Party their inclusion in all three debates was understandable. However we now know that the most likely outcome of the General Election will be some form of coalition and if that is wrong the Sky/CH4 debate covers the ground in any case. The appalling idea that we have 3 debates with such a narrow set of people, all white, all male and middle aged, all English establishment cannot be laid entirely at the door of broadcasters, but they do at least have one debate if not more than one that they could change.
Assuming that we have three debates why not make the third one that brings to bear the regional dimension and makes space for local candidates to be heard. The inclusion of local candidates from the parties would also allow some Independent Candidates to be included. Although these debates might not be local enough to really reflect the choice that any one of us will make, they will at least demonstrate that our democracy is not presidential and does depend on local choices.