Nobody has emerged with great credit from the tortuous exchanges this week about TV election debates with the Party leaders. David Cameron has been attacked for his lack of enthusiasm for them – and thus charged with cowardice and a reversal of his previous statements of enthusiasm. Indignation from the other parties has been synthetic – the most glorious example of hypocrisy being from Alastair Campbell who had such a key role in thwarting TV debates between Tony Blair and John Major in 1997 and Blair and William Hague in 2001.
The broadcasters have looked self-obsessed and as Paul noted have displayed a sense of entitlement. The theme of media arrogance has been taken up in some of the newspapers this morning. There does seem to be a quality among TV journalists that there is a moral obligation for the rest of humanity to be at their disposal. Their colleagues in print – and radio for that matter – don’t proceed through life with quite the same level of presumption.
Then, if the voters are disappointed by the mess, what of their own responsibility for creating it? First of all they caused a coalition government to be brought about causing a complication in the status of the Lib Dems. Then they switched in large numbers to the Green Party and UKIP, leaving us with a five party system in England. Finally, the surge in support for the SNP makes that Party hard to exclude – with implications for parties from Wales and Northern Ireland. The voters certainly left the broadcasters with a headache.
What has got rather lost is that Cameron has offered to take part in a debate and this offer has been turned down. In their letter to Craig Oliver the broadcasters say:
“The Conservative Party proposal – as we understand it – is for:
- One debate
- 90 minutes in duration
- Involving seven parties
- The DUP should be allowed to make its case to be included
- It should take place in the week of 23rd March
The letter makes no mention of the head-to-head debate which we had previously understood the Conservatives were in favour of.
We believe the proposal for just one debate of 90 minutes duration is insufficient to cover the main election issues with seven participants.”
So because one debate is “insufficient” the broadcasters would prefer to have none at all. Where is the logic in that?
But in the era of the internet who needs the broadcasters? Why should politicians be subservient to these grand missives from the “Heads of News” of the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4? Nobody has elected Sue Inglish, Michael Jermey, Dorothy Byrne or Jonathan Levy. Who do they think the are?
Why not empty chair the broadcasters? Let’s book a hall for an evening before March 23rd and find a chairman. Cameron would be there. The leaders of the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, UKIP, the Green Party, the DUP, the SNP and Plaid would be invited. The broadcasters would be welcome to film it. If they choose not to, then it could be watched on YouTube.
Ed Miliband has said, in an unlikely echo of the Martini advertisement:
“I’ll debate him any time, any place anywhere.”
That did not preclude a debate before March 23rd. Nor did it set conditions about which other party leaders would be present. When Miliband said that, did he mean it? If he did, then presumably he would turn up. I’m pretty sure Nigel Farage would.
The really tricky decision would be for the broadcasters.