This 'big TV conversation' is too small, say 'other parties'

By staff writers
17 Apr 2010

Three of the parties often dubbed 'other' by the media - who all have elected or governing representatives - have criticised the "narrow" remit, vision and content of the TV prime ministerial debates.

The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, who share governance in Scotland and Wales, and the Green Party, who have representation in the European Parliament and who are hoping to have their first Westminster MP in May, have all condemned what they see as the vacuous "big conversation rhetoric" around the first-ever UK leaders' election debate on ITV on 15 April 2010.

Pollsters, pundits and popular opinion have declared the Lib Dems' Nick Clegg the 'winner' of the television contest on Thursday night, described by the Metro newspaper as "three men, three suits and three very well-rehearsed sets of arguments".

But while the quality of the debate, held in front of a selected audience barred from clapping or participating, has been widely hailed as better than the dour encounter some anticipated, the SNP and Plaid (who were dismissed as a "two-bit party" by Mr Clegg on his visit to Wales) are pointing out that the key issues of jobs, services, cuts and development for communities outside the "London politics bubble" were largely ignored by the men respresenting the monopoly parties in a first-past-the-post Westminster electoral system.

The Welsh and Scottish nationalists described the first leaders' TV debate as "three machine politicians with nothing to say to three countries."

SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson said: "The London leaders are part of the same metropolitan machine – a system that has failed voters in our nations... [The] debate only served to highlight how remote they are from the issues that matter most."

He continued: "They had nothing positive to say about schools and hospitals in Scotland or Wales, but these vital local services will face the impact of the harsh cuts that were confirmed by all three London parties."

"They are prepared to cut investment on teachers, nurses and jobs but continue spending billions on nuclear weapons. That is the wrong choice and a deeply dangerous choice," said Robertson.

He added: "Only a strong block of Plaid Cymru and SNP MPs can break through this cosy London consensus."

Meanwhile, “87 per cent of Britons would be better off” under the Green Party’s recession-busting manifesto, claims the election candidate tipped by ICM, YouGov and Betfair to become UK’s first Green MP.

Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas launched its general election manifesto 'Fair is worth fighting' for at the Brighton Metropole Hotel under the shadow of the impending TV spectacular.

Ms Lucas is hotly tipped by pollsters to take the Brighton Pavilion seat on 6 May - though local activists stress that they are taking nothing for granted, and that every vote counts.

The party's deputy leader and Norwich South hopeful, Adrian Ramsay, also addressed the press conference, as did Darren Johnson, Green Party candidate for Lewisham Deptford and current chair of the London Assembly.

Ms Lucas said: "This is an exciting time - we are on the brink of getting our first seats. People are crying out for real change, as the other parties become increasingly alike. Our key messages are those on the environment, on the economy and on fairness. We believe that the choice between safeguarding the environment and the economy is a false one - if you want to see how 'green' a party is, look at its economic policies."

She continued: "We are calling for a major change, for social and economic justice that would see 87 per cent of the population significantly better off. Now is the time for radical tax reform, with those on higher incomes paying more, and those on lower incomes better off. For example, we have pledged to provide a citizens pension of £170 per week. At the moment, a quarter of pensioners are living in poverty. Thirteen years ago Labour promised to link pensions to earnings - and we're still waiting."

"We would bring in a national minimum wage of £8.10 an hour, and reduce corporation tax to make it easier for small businesses to thrive. But this is not fantasy politics - our manifesto is fully costed. We would pay for it by, for example, scrapping Trident which would bring in around £80 billion. We would cut the £30 billion to be spent on road building, and use the money to invest in public transport. We would raise income tax for those earning over £100,000 a year - that is just two per cent of the population - to fifty per cent. We support a Robin Hood tax. And we would ensure a permanent tax on bankers bonuses.

"[S]ociety is now less equal that is has ever been since the Second World War - a damning indictment of the Government. In less equal societies, there is more violence, more crime, more health problems. It is in the benefit of all that we get society back on its feet, and make it more equal for the good of all."

Mr Ramsay added: "We want to ensure that every child has access to a good local school. We want teachers to be free to do their jobs, and we would [be] scrapping SATS tests, as the NUT suggests. We want every single talented student to be able to go to university, regardless of family income, and would scrap tuition fees for all students."

He continued: "Our manifesto sees money going to improve health services, not to line the pocket of private finance companies, which is why we would end the practice of using PFI to pay for hospitals - akin to paying for your house on a credit card. We would keep our health services, along with our schools and post offices, local, and we would support local businesses who form the bedrock of our economy."

Mr Johnson said the "fully costed manifesto... would see the creation of one million new jobs and investment in public services to avoid a 'double-dip' recession."

Political reformers say that upping the vote for Greens, SNP, Plaid, small parties, independents and the Liberal Democrats can contribute to achieving a hung parliament which will put the two largest contenders, Labour and the Tories, under increasing pressure in a hung parliament.

Anthony Barnett of openDemocracy / OurKingdom (http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom), who was founder of Charter 88 and is playing a leading role in the 'Hang 'Em' (http://hang-em.com/) online campaign, declared yesterday: "There is a real chance now of a hung parliament and even a hung parliament plus, in which along with independents and SNP and Plaid, there could be a majority in the Commons that does not include either the Tory or Labour Party."

He added: "When some of us launched Hang ‘Em [this week] we said “We have got to renew democracy in Britain. They won't, so hang 'em until they do”. I thought it will take five to ten years. It could now be much sooner."

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Hang 'Em can be found here: http://hang-em.com/

The Green election manifesto can be downloaded here: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

UK election: 'Has Clegg hung 'em?', by Anthony Barnett: http://www.opendemocracy.net/anthony-barnett/has-clegg-hung-em

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