In his latest column for Exepose Features, Theo Stone takes a look at the controversy surrounding the upcoming TV debates in preparation for the 2015 General Election.
Will they, or won’t they? The 2015 television debates, which are scheduled to be held on the run-up to the General Election, have become one of the most controversial topics surrounding this event.
Whilst it is certain that we will see Ed Miliband (Labour Party), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) and Nigel Farage (UKIP) go up against each other to sell their parties to the viewers, the presence of the Prime Minister, David Cameron (Conservative Party), is certainly not. Nor do we know if Natalie Bennett (Green Party) will appear to debate with the other leaders on a national stage.
The primary problem here is that broadcasters are unwilling to invite the Green Party to any of their debates, something that has allowed David Cameron to generate a means of escape. He has now told the press that, if the Green Party is not included, he will not take part.
Now, whilst this may be seen as a noble attempt to encourage representation on from all sides, many also see it as being an attempt to escape from the process of debating with the other leaders. David Cameron has far more to lose than the other two due to the fact that he is the one who is currently in power, and thus if he were to perform poorly, his, and thus the Conservative, popularity would deteriorate, and thus he would open up the door to a Labour Government. Furthermore, if Cameron did not appear in any of the debates, it would be by no means the most damaging move that he can make. Indeed, the ‘Bigoted Woman’ slur uttered by Gordon Brown on the run-up to the 2010 elections was seen as being far more damaging to his position than his performance in the televised debates, when compared to Nick Clegg’s performance.
Of course, this does not mean that his lack of appearance will be tolerated, or have any implications. If he did not attend, then there would be fiery criticism emerging from all sides, proclaiming that he was trying to stall the democratic process. Now, this is most likely true, and the timing of his ‘Pro-Green’ announcement in many ways confirms this. It arrived at a rather bizarre point in time, wherein the argument for and against the Greens partaking was still raging on, but months after the initial statement, and thus it appears that it was conceived as both an escape route, and as a way to undermine support for the Labour Party.
That would be achieved by letting the Green Party into the debates. The Conservatives already possess a right-wing party nipping at their heels, that being UKIP, and thus it would be tactically beneficial for them if the Green Party were to take part in the elections, since they are a Left-Wing party, capable of taking votes from potential Labour supporters and thus reducing their support.
So why isn’t the Green Party scheduled to take part in the elections?
The answer is a rather dubious one. Ofcom, the competition and regulatory authority for broadcasting, believes the Green Party simply isn’t large enough to take part. Now, whilst this claim may have been thinly defensible several months ago, it is complete lunacy to suggest this today. The party recently saw over 2,000 people sign up in just 24-hours. This is a feat that, whilst also coinciding with Natalie Bennett’s visit to the University of Exeter (and thus allowing us to take some of the credit), has seen them surge past both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats in terms of membership size, with them registering over 44,713 members, compared to the Liberal Democrats’ 44,576 and UKIP’s 41,943.
The polls don’t exactly support Ofcom either. The Guardian’s latest poll shows the Green Party at 9 per cent, with UKIP and the Lib Dems at 11 per cent each, and Lib Dem support is expected to fall further over the coming months, which would most likely result in at least a 10 per cent stake being forged by each party. If this is truly to be the case, then why is one allowed onstage whilst the other is not? Indeed, if we look at the latest poll from Lord Ashcroft, we see the Green Party on 11 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent and UKIP on 15 per cent. Now, if we were to go by this poll, then it becomes obvious that the less popular party has been selected over what is, by membership and by the poll, a more popular party. Furthermore, the Green Party didn’t require a by-election to gain a seat in Parliament.
These facts defiantly stand against Ofcom claims. However, the fact that the numbers stand against the broadcasters is not the flaw of Ofcom’s statement. The other is the fact that to deny the Green Party’s appearance is anti-democratic. To say that a party that is clearly sizeable enough to be considered as a ‘national party’ means that you are denying thousands of people a voice. Furthermore, allowing the Green Party to appear would even-out the political spectrum. Allowing them to appear would mean that there would be two left-wing political parties; The Green Party and the Labour Party, one centrist party (the Liberal Democrats), and two right-wing parties; the Conservative Party and UKIP. Each of these parties are polling at similar levels to their ideological rivals (Labour and the Conservatives are hovering around 30 per cent each and the Greens and UKIP are floating around between the 10-12 per cent median region, as are the Liberal Democrats), so to allow all five of these parties simply means that we can have a broad, fair and equally-represented form of representation when the national debates are televised.
So what about the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin, the DUP and other, more localised, parties? Well, the answer is simple: include them in local debates. These parties hold seats in Parliament and have a sizeable presence in their respective countries (the case is especially true when it comes to the SNP in Scotland). To discard them would again by anti-democratic and it would prevent their respective voices from being heard. Each country (the ones in question being Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have their own respective terrestrial television channels and the capacity to broadcast them, and if it is true that they have a duty to uphold democracy within Britain, then they must uphold it through televised debates.
Democratic debate is not pick-and-mix.bookmark me