Who Gave The Broadcasters Authority to Regulate the Leaders’ Election Debates


So the current state of play is that Cameron won’t take part in the TV Leaders’ debates unless the Greens can, and OFCOM says that the Green’s can’t.

I am becoming increasingly concerned that the election is being run for the media, by the media. This is manifest in the decision being made by OFCOM rather than The Electoral Commission. Quite how we ended up with leaders’ debates escapes me; the chief reason I think was that they have them in the US so we should follow. That makes no sense to me (or I suspect anyone outside luvvie land). Nor is it consistent – they have the death penalty in much of the US.

Of course, the olds saw is that the election is supposed to be about individual voters selecting their representative at Westminster. This convention has been undermined by the party political system, and now the harsh reality is that most of the time most vote for a party or party leader. The most that a local candidate can do is work hard and get the vote out, or stuff it up and lose. On that basis it probably makes sense for the TV debates.

The major caveat is that the success of a TV debate depends entirely upon the format and the ability of the presenter to hold leaders to the format. The presenter also needs to be able to dissect the leaders’ answers to strip out the spin, misrepresentations and simplifications to get to the essence of the proposition. Sadly there are very few UK TV journalists who have the knowledge, intellect or grasp to manage that. Moreover that would almost certainly be best achieved through a series of one on one interviews. Of course, that would be less compelling viewing.

The format design is also going to be crucial, particularly with four or five parties. Again, who is responsible for this and on what basis is the decision made. I am deeply suspicious of questions from an invited audience unless they are going down the BBC Question Time format. Which of course they are not.

If the current spectacle of politicians squabbling about format and attendance is unedifying, the prospect of a leaders’ debate without the incumbent is ludicrous. While Cameron may rightly be trying to wind the clock back, the simple fact is that he could demolish Milliband and Clegg. As could Farage in Cameron’s absence. Caroline Lucas is an irrelevance, as is Alec Salmond on any TV set south of Hadrian’s Wall. If there is a debate he should be there, although Salmond is probably the only politician that Cameron fears. Of course, there is also the risk that by appearing aggressive he may make play to the Bullingdon caricatures so beloved of the media.

If Cameron does manage to prevent a leaders’ debate I do not think that democracy will suffer. If there is one in the wrong format or one badly moderated then Millibland may do better and the whole country will suffer. It there is a well conducted one then Millibland and socialism should lose badly. What worries me is that this entire outcome is in the hands of a media luvvie. We have gone from media’s power without responsibility to power for no good reason.

Yes the press should be free, and broadly they are (although sometimes the consequences of what they print catch up with them, not always in court). But where they are in a position to influence the democratic structure through the extension of the electoral process they are NOT voicing opinion. The broadcasters should not be organising this, setting terms or indeed creating a debate on who should or should not take part. This should all be arranged through the electoral commission and he process and format should be enshrined into UK Election Law.

In the meantime I think Cameron is playing a clever game, but an unnecessary one. But I suppose it fills the time between now and May.

3 thoughts on “Who Gave The Broadcasters Authority to Regulate the Leaders’ Election Debates”

  1. Dan Hodges makes a few good points about these debates in an article in the Telegraph. I completely agree with what you’ve said here and it’s completely unnecessary

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