After weeks of shadowboxing, the debate about the debates, has turned into something of an all-out fight. Cameron has essentially offered an ultimatum to broadcasters; saying he will take part in only one contest with at least 7 party leaders, and it must happen this month. It is not hard to forget back in 2010 when the idea for the televised debates was such a simple affair; albeit overly stage-managed. However, this time round the planning for the 2015 electoral debates seems be a disorganised mess, but who is really to blame? Labour were quick to capitalise on the stubbornness of Cameron’s apparent reluctance, according to Ed Miliband, Cameron is actively bullying the broadcasters in order to persuade them to conform to his own proposals. In an attempt to blame the broadcasters for the unsavoury process on the way the negotiations have taken place, Downing Street typed up a strongly worded letter for all to see:
“This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the Prime Minister will not be participating in more than one debate”
As a result of this letter, we can now confirm that we will have at least one televised debate which involves the actual Prime Minister; yet it leads one to ponder how a 7-way election debate will work. Could Plaid Cymru debate against the SNP on any issues? How will Cameron and Clegg debate each other when they are defending the same government’s actions? While representation of the minor parties is essentially a great idea, it stifles the legitimacy of a concurrent and healthy debate. The actual makeup of our political system is not built for smaller parties, and we could argue that the ‘First-past-the-post’ system is designed to balance parliament between two dominant parties. Our electoral system is really being pushed to its limits due to the popularity of UKIP, Greens, SNP and the like, and this in turn is pushing any notion of a feasible televised debate into disrepute.
When David Cameron was targeted with questions related to the televised debates, he actively called for these debates to happen; albeit in a vague and non-descript manner. This is in great contrast to Ed Miliband, who has enjoyed the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality as a result of Cameron quasi-reluctance towards the issue. Cameron is also noted a preference for the debates to happen before what is known as the ‘short-campaign’, beginning on the March 30th, so could we be seeing a dynamic electoral debate on our TV screens with a matter of weeks? Well, should Cameron gets his way, then yes we will, absolutely. What we must cling onto is the notion that the Prime Minister has signed up to the principle of an election debate after much drama.
One such principle that Cameron has not endorsed, is the idea of a ‘head-to-head debate’, a contest that was unduly denied to the public in 2010. The excited Ed Miliband appears to relish the challenge of a one-on-one American style ‘debatetathon’, and it can be argued that the public should have a right to see the two party leaders shout it out on a platform other than the PMQs in the Houses of Parliament. If such an event happens, then we may see the awkward-Ed persona shaken off, assuming his charisma coach has done his job properly.
Nick Clegg flexed his tweeting fingers in response to the controversy, claiming that his coalition partner was holding the broadcasters to ransom by trying to dictate the terms of the debate outcome. Much to Clegg’s dismay, it appears that the broadcasters have given in to Cameron’s demands, although there is still some way to go. If you happened to be a ‘glass half-full’ type of person, then you could argue that progress has been made in this respect, but if you view the glass as half empty, then you might consider Cameron to be a mere obstacle, or even a threat to democracy. This has taken the debate about the debates into a direction we really were not expecting. The broadcasters are not happy, the Prime Minister is dismayed, the other party leaders are disgruntled and the public are just plain confused. Yet again, the voters are met with another barrier towards democracy.
By Stuart Chapman, Senior Writer for Daily Political View.