Archive for the 'Leaders’ TV debates' Category


The 7-7-2 debate format is just inviting a court challenge

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

The “worm” from the 2nd 2010 debate

Maybe judges killing them off is what the broadcasters really want

It was so easy last time: three major GB parties and no other vaguely serious contender. With the SNP messing up their legal challenge, the invites to send more-or-less wrote themselves. As is already clear from the saga so far, it’s a very different situation this year.

What’s striking to me about the latest proposals is not so much the unwieldy scale of seven parties proposed for two of the debates but the invite to Plaid. You can see how it’s happened. On one level, it follows logically that if the SNP are invited then their Welsh counterparts should be too. Except that while Plaid might be the SNP’s approximate ideological counterparts, they’re far from their psephological ones.

The case for the inclusion of the SNP is that they might have a significant role in determining who ends up in Downing Street after May given the number of MPs they may well then hold, going by current polling and by actual elections in Scotland since at least 2007 (with the sole, if notable, exception of the 2010 vote). There’s certainly no case based on the number of candidates stood, nor really on the number of votes cast. By contrast, there is a very strong case for UKIP and a much weaker one for the Greens based on their respective national presence in candidates and their performance in real or virtual votes.

Plaid, however, is a different kettle of fish. Unlike the SNP, they have experienced no upsurge in support, finishing fourth in last year’s Euro-election and only just holding on to their seat. With only 3 MPs at present and no realistic prospect of significant gains, their invitation rests on a very tenuous basis.

And therein lies the problem: if you ignore the published major/minor party lists, where do you then draw the line, and on what basis? If Plaid gets an invite with three MPs and 165k votes in 2010, why not the DUP who returned as many votes and more than double the number of MPs? But if the DUP get an invite, surely Sinn Fein has to have one too, both for balance and because they won (slightly) more votes than their unionist opponents. It may be that because Northern Irish politics is so divorced from that of Britain that they will let that point pass but it’s still illogical and iniquitous.

On the other hand, relegating the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dems into the also-ran division makes the Yellows the biggest losers in these proposals and consequently may invite a challenge from that direction. Loading the stage with five left-of-centre candidates and four other non-Blue/Red leaders dilutes greatly the Lib Dem distinctiveness in a format where it was already going to be hard to both take credit for government achievements while distancing themselves from the Conservatives. UKIP too have reason to feel aggrieved that having forced open the door, three others have rushed through.

I can’t help but wonder whether the reason that there are so many angles of attack against the format is because the broadcasters don’t really want it but that they do want an authoritative and external decision ruling out the idea, enabling them to return to something more televisually appealing without taking any of the blame for the exclusions.

David Herdson


TV debates plan B+1. Is Number 10 going to agree this time?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Seven participants is just too many

Not long to go before the election campaign starts and this afternoon the broadcasters put forward a new proposal on leaders’ debates which, for the first time, brings in SNP/PC as well as the Greens.

Two of the debates; those hosted by ITV and BBC would feature all seven parties – the third, Sky’s, would just be Miliband and Cameron.

Seven participants is quite simply far too many. We see such sessions take place in the early stages of the US presidential election primaries and having so many on the stage hardly makes for good TV or help inform voters.

The big question is whether Number 10 will block this latest plan and, if so, for what reason.

My view remains. Cameron and his team don’t want them and will find a reason not to co-operate.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Why I’m now betting that Cameron will not appear in any leaders’ debate

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

ITV promotion 1st Debate April 2010

6/4 seems a good price on the PM not takink part

On Monday I spent several hours in Westminster talking to key figures and attending the Robert Hayward briefing (see a previous post). One of the things I tried to get a sense of was the debates. Are these going to happen?

The message I got was that those round Mr. Cameron are adamant that it is to the blue’s team’s advantage if the Prime Minister doesn’t take part. It appears that the view is being taken that the risk of him appearing alongside other leaders is greater the than negatives there will be for seen to be avoiding them.

It’s a calculation they’ve made and from the Number 10 perspective seems wise. The downside risk of Farage or Miliband being given a boost is simply too great. Dave scores well in the ratings so leave it at that.

The one thing with the potential to change this is the threat of one or all of the broadcasters deciding on an empty chair policy. That might happen though there are reasons to think that it won’t.

At the BBC the big corporate consideration is the renewal of its charter and it wouldn’t want to do anything to rock the boat. ITV, it is felt, would follow the BBC leaving Sky as a possibility.

That might happen but the threat, in my view, is not strong enough for Dave to change his mind. In fact it might help the Tory cause with Nick Clegg being left to pick up all the brick-bats for the coalition.

I’m on no TV debates involving the PM at 7/4 in the Betfair Sportsbook market, That’s now 6/4.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Cameron’s big mistake was not killing off the debates a year ago

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

As it is he either agrees or continues to be labelled “chicken”

As an incumbent PM facing an opposition leader with as poor personal ratings as Ed Miliband’s it has been apparent for a long time that the best outcome for DC would be for no debates to take place. Why give Ed a platform that puts him equal with Dave?

This is the more so now that Ofcom has deemed UKIP to be a major party and the threat from Nigel Farage to the Tories has become greater.

Cameron and his team should have made clear at an early stage that he would not be taking part giving as a reason the the way that the TV debates can totally disrupt the campaign. He would have taken a hit then but it would have been mostly forgotten by the time election year opened.

As it is the broadcasters have put formal proposals and it appears that he is trying to find any excuse to avoid them. Far better now to agree to go forward rather than be tagged a “chicken” for the next four months.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Dave’s approach to leaders’ debates gets the thumbs down from the ComRes sample

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

But what we don’t know is how salient an issue this is

I am always a bit wary about polling like that featured above. Yes Mr. Cameron’s approach draws some negatives but does it actually matter?

Isn’t the leaders’ debate issue just a concern that gets those within the “bubble” excited but few others? Will it really swing many votes?

It is said that Cameron and his team don’t want them because they they put him and Mr. Miliband on an equal plane which is far from the image they want to project. Maybe and that seems a politically sound approach.

But the danger for the Tories is if Labour and the other parties are, within two weeks of voting, able to get some mileage out of Cameron’s reluctance. Attacks then could be damaging.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Methinks that Dave has made a mistake on the TV debates

Thursday, January 8th, 2015


A key factor at GE2015: Will UKIP be deemed a “major party”?

Monday, September 8th, 2014


Corporeal looks at the BBC’s Clacton decision

One of the unresolved questions surrounding the next general election is how the media will treat UKIP, will they be pushed into the background as coverage hones in on the Lib Dems, (and especially) Labour, and the Conservatives or will they get brought into the mainstream debate and get a share of the precious oxygen of publicity. Most interesting, and probably most symbolic of all is whether they will get a look in (or how much of one) at the leader debates.

I’ve written before in a mix of fascinating and tedious detail about the rules governing the television coverage of political parties, and especially the criteria that cover them (and I’d semi-humbly suggest it’s worth a re-read, at least so you know where the goalposts are, or at least were). The central point is which parties get ‘major party’ status. Parties within this group (and it’s a flexible one that varies between elections and location, in recent years UKIP being a major party only in the Euros and the Nationalists gaining major status in their respective homelands) are guaranteed broadly similar levels of coverage during the election campaign.

This (as fans of reading comprehension may have guessed) doesn’t mean identical levels (the Lib Dems have recently had lower level of election broadcasts etc) but generally guarantees at least a seat at the table, or in terms of the debates (which draw slightly more interest than relative number of election broadcasts) a podium on the stage. It is a possibility that the debates will go into a more complex format with varying participants, but it’s hard to imagine them taking place without all the leaders of the major parties being present for at least a significant part of the debates.

As an update to that, we have the BBC’s editorial guidelines for Clacton out, the highlight (from a party perspective) of which was:

“The available evidence of electoral support in the constituency, together with other relevant factors outlined in the guidelines, indicates that: candidates representing the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP can expect to receive similar levels of coverage. Other parties who stood in Clacton in 2010, or who have received support in subsequent elections (and who announce candidates) should receive some proportionate coverage.

Obviously Clacton is a special case in terms of a defecting MP for Carswell, but it’s certainly a positive sign in their hopes for better coverage and ultimately being a part of the TV debates (would it be Carswell or Farage showing up), particularly if they win as favourites. Beyond the debates a more consistent presence in the day to day broadcast media campaign coverage would be a significant benefit.

The biggest winners in that advice may actually be the Liberal Democrats. Given that they scored 12.9% at the 2010 General Election in Clacton (and been in low single figures in constituency polls published so far), that they’ve retained major party status for media coverage wasn’t a certainty and is a positive sign for the future since it strongly point towards them also keeping it for next year’s General Election campaign. That might be more important to them than the final result in Clacton.



Cameron’s big 2015 debate gamble: to play or to sabotage

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

The 5-3-2 proposal is unworkable and looks like a wrecking attempt

There’s no doubt that David Cameron looks like someone who wants to avoid the kind of leaders’ debates that dominated the 2010 election.  He’s on record as saying that he’d prefer a different format, though the lack of engagement in the process to design them suggests no great urgency on his or his party’s part.

Indeed, the proposal to have three debates – one between him and Ed Miliband, one with those two and Nick Clegg, and one with those three, Nigel Farage and the Green leader (who may change between now and then given their biennial leadership elections) – could have been designed to elicit a rejection from at least one other major party and so throw the onus for a lack of agreement on to whoever rejected it.  Except that’s not where the blame would end up; for one thing, it’s too transparent, for another, it runs against the rules on fair coverage and for a third, it wouldn’t preclude a more sensible suggestion being put forward.

While the Lib Dems are still recognised as a ‘major party’ for Westminster elections, it’s not going to be practical to exclude them from any of the debates.  Unless Ofcom downgrade their status based on polling and other election results – something highly unlikely given that they were recently granted that status for the Euro-election where historically they do worse than in the generals – the expectation has to be that they’ll be there in all of them.

Similarly, the idea that UKIP should only be granted the same status as the Greens opens up a whole different kettle of fish.  The SNP contested the right for the last elections to exist due to their exclusion and while they lost that case, that was partly down to legal tactics and partly because the SNP was clearly a lesser factor in the election across the UK than the three parties that did take part.  By contrast, proposing the inclusion of the Greens and UKIP but not other parties with MPs is an open invitation for them to instigate court cases they might well win.

For that matter, while UKIP doesn’t currently have any MPs, it’s tempting fate to base an argument on that when the Newark by-election gives them a reasonable chance of making precisely that breakthrough.  Likewise, is it really plausible to place UKIP alongside the Greens if, as polls suggest is eminently possible, Farage leads his party to victory in the European elections?

The scale of that achievement should not be understated: no party other than the Conservatives or Labour has won any national election in over a century.  For comparison, the biggest election the Liberals or Lib Dems have won since 1945 is Devon County Council.  To class UKIP in the third tier is asking for trouble – which may very well be the plan.

Perhaps the question Cameron (or his team) should be asking is whether he or they are right to be so frightened of UKIP.  No doubt they’re still haunted to some extent by the effect Nick Clegg had on the 2010 election campaign after the first debate and are worried that Farage might do something similar.  Perhaps he would but it’s far less clear who would be the loser if he did.  UKIP speak to socially conservative Labour voters as much as Tory ones.

Either way, putting forward a proposal that Ofcom would likely rule out of order is not going to work, either as PR or on its own merits.  The reality is that the media want debates, a goodly portion of the public want debates and some of the leaders will want debates.  Standing against them or trying to finesse them off the table will just look bad.  He could do a lot worse than just back the same format as last time.

David Herdson