Election debates could go ahead without PM, say broadcasters

By staff writers
January 30, 2015

The BBC and ITV have "reiterated" that the network General Election TV debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate.

This comment came buried in the detail of a longer joint statement from the broadcasters about the Northern Ireland parties, and particularly the claim of the Democratic Unionist Party to participate alongside the Conservatives, the Green Party of England and Wales, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and UKIP.

The remark seems to be a reference particularly to Prime Minister David Cameron's continued questioning about whether and how he will take part.

First the PM said he would not participate without the Greens, knowing that this would cause difficulty for Labour in the same way as his party is concerned about UKIP.

Then he said that the debates should be early rather than late, and seemed to indicate that he was not fully committed to taking part.

Now, two of the 'big three' network television companies, along with Sky, whose own position seems less clear, have indicated that they will not be put off from going ahead by the Prime Minister.

This is a clear attempt to be seen to be independent of government and the two largest parties, whose position, wealth and power is bolstered by a non-proportional voting system.

The BBC and ITV say that the proposed structure of the debates, to be finalised on 5 February 2015, is fair to all voters, letting everyone see the leaders of the major parties they can vote for.

In the network debates all voters in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to see all the main choices available to them on election day.

In the Northern Ireland debates all voters in Northern Ireland will be able to see all the main and different choices available to them on election day.

Their press release then added the key paragraph: "The broadcasters today reiterated that the network debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate."

Meanwhile, a Conservative Party commentator, Nic Connor, writing on the influential Conservative Home site, has called for the DUP to be included in the debates, while dismissing them as "rubbish".

The thinktank on changing politics and beliefs, Ekklesia, says that the 2015 network television debates, however they eventually go ahead, are transitional to a larger change in thinking among broadcasters about the shifting nature of politics and representation, and the altered media landscape of a multi-platform environment.

"Politics needs to be about people, not vested interests, and a plural media – and not least a public service broadcaster – needs to reflect that, so that the spectrum of beliefs, policies and values are heard", commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

The BBC and ITV also said: “We are proposing that the debates should happen within the campaign period at a time when the parties will be setting out policies in their manifestos and when the audience is fully engaged with the election. The 2015 campaign will be nearly six weeks long and there is plenty of time for three debates to be held without overshadowing the rest of the campaign.”

“The proposed dates for the network debates are 2, 16 and 30 April [2015]. The order of the debates is to be discussed with the parties. In the event that any of the invited party leaders decline to participate, debates will take place with the party leaders who accept the invitation.”

* Ekklesia's position: Broadening the General Election television debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21296

* Ekklesia comment: Network TV election debates will change more: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21398

* Joint BBC and ITV press release: http://www.itv.com/presscentre/press-releases/televised-leaders-election...

* BBC and ITV refuse to allow DUP into network leaders' election debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21396

* Nic Conner: Let the Democratic Unionists into the debates (Conservative Home website): http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2015/01/nic-conner-let-the-demo...

* 'BBC and ITV look set to expand party leader debates', Ekklesia, 23 January: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21352

* More on 2015 General Election issues and discussion from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

[Ekk/3]

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