Commenting on the news that the three main party leaders will take part in general election TV debates for the first time, Simon Barrow, co-director of the think tank Ekklesia, which earlier this year published a report on alternative politics, said:
"While it is certainly good that the major party leaders are recognising the need for more scrutiny by agreeing to television debates, it seems that what is being proposed is stage-managed events controlled by broadcasting and big party interests in front of specially selected audiences. These encounters will exclude other significant parties, reinforcing the dominant system and a London-centred view.
"Many will view TV debates as a step forward, but it is important to recognise that what is on offer here is not a renewal of democracy, but a camera make-over. Established politicians should not be allowed to use the hype around these debates to detract from the issues of fundamental voting and political reform. It is grassroots participation and involvement that lies at the heart of democracy, not the attempts of 'the big three' to hog the limelight.
"The structure and nature of the debates as currently envisaged is unsatisfactory and needs to be reconsidered by the Electoral Commission."
NOTE: Since 2002, Ekklesia has been arguing that a key element of political and democratic renewal in Britain hinges on the encouragement of independent, citizen-based and associational politics as a counter-weight to the hegemony of top-down party elites, and as a challenge to a parliamentary and voting system badly in need of reform.
See Ekklesia's June 2009 report 'The State of Independents: Alternative Politics' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/independent_politics