BBC under pressure to rethink TV election debates


David Cameron and Nick Clegg in 2010 TV election debateThe Greens, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru have joined forces to ask the BBC to rethink its plans to exclude them from the main TV leaders’ debates in next year’s general election.

The call was made in a joint letter to the corporation that has also been backed by some cross-benchers and the Labour peer Lady Helena Kennedy.

The BBC has launched a public consultation on its election guidelines, but not specifically on its plans for the leader debates.

The BBC and other broadcasters have proposed that the UK Independence party (Ukip) join the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives in one nationwide debate, followed by a discussion between the three main Westminster parties, culminating in a head-to-head debate between the prime minister, David Cameron, and the opposition Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

The debates are seen as critical to Miliband’s chances of persuading the British electorate to vote for him as prime minister.

The joint signatories argue: “There is clear public support for broadening out the leaders’ debates. Regardless of their politics, most people have a strong sense of what is right and fair. Whilst we welcome the BBC’s recent decision to consult on its draft election guidelines, we believe that the corporation’s public service remit makes a clear case for wider representation than is currently envisaged. In particular, the BBC is bound to:

• Engage a wide audience in news, current affairs and other topical issues.

• Encourage conversation and debate about news, current affairs and topical issues.

• Build greater understanding of the parliamentary process and political institutions governing the UK.”

The group claims: “We believe that these duties would not be fully discharged if viewers were not given the opportunity to hear from a range of political parties in the runup to the 2015 general election, with the leader debates representing a key opportunity.”

The letter has been signed by a group including the former Paralympian Lady Grey Thompson; Labour MP Paul Flynn; convener of the Scottish Green party Patrick Harvie MSP; Labour peer Lady Helena Kennedy, Plaid Cymru Westminster Group leader Elfyn Llwyd; Green MP Caroline Lucas; cross-bench peer Baron Herman Ouseley; Westminster SNP leader Angus Robertson, Westminster SNP leader; cross-bench peer Nicholas Trench, Earl of Clancarty; SNP MP Mike Weir; and Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams.

The BBC has said in the past it has made “editorial judgments about coverage during the general election campaign informed by evidence of past and current electoral support. Opinion polls are part of that evidence whereby we take account of consistent and robust trends across different polls over time, rather than reacting to individual polls.”

The corporation argues that Ukip has been polling substantially higher than the Greens, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru are not parties standing throughout the UK. There would be separate leader debates in Scotland and Wales.

More than 200,000 people have signed petitions calling for the Green party to be included in the debates and its exclusion appears to be driving an increase in membership.

The petition, started by Young Green activist Robyn Meadwell, states: “The Green party beat the Liberal Democrats in the 2014 European elections and is polling neck-and-neck with them in general election opinion polls. In May 2014, more than 1.2 million people voted Green – more than 150,000 more than voted Liberal Democrat.

“By excluding a party with a female leader, we are sending a clear message to the public – politics is still an old boys’ club.”

Green party membership stands at 24,435 and has risen by 77% since the start of 2014.

Source – The Guardian


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