Archive for the 'Leaders’ TV debates' Category


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


David Herdson on whether Farage has done enough to win a place in the 2015 debates

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Prime Ministerial Debates 2010   YouTube (1)

One thing we should know: the debates will happen

In one sense, David Cameron and Ed Miliband missed out on an opportunity by declining the invites to what turned into the Clegg-Farage Eurodebates.  Not being there will not have helped either of their parties and Cameron in particular could have occupied the popular sceptical middle ground between Clegg’s uncritical Europhilia and Farage’s withdrawalism.

However, that opportunity has to be set against the cost, which would have been establishing a precedent whereby UKIP’s leader debated on equal terms with the leaders of the Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives.  Once achieved, UKIP would surely keep the pressure up for a repeat run this time next year.  The effects of this debate will probably dissipate within days; the precedent, had it been set, would have had much longer-lasting effects.

It’s true that Farage would have an uphill job winning a place next year.  Ofcom rightly adjudge which the major parties are according to the type of election as well as each party’s performance.  UKIP’s status for the Euro-elections owes more to their vote shares in 2004 and 2009 than their polling over the last two or three years, and just because they’re one of the Big Four this year it doesn’t mean they’ll be granted the same status next year at the general election.

Even so, they’d still reap good publicity if they were believed by the public to be unjustly ejected from the top table having been previously granted access to it.  For a party courting the anti-establishment vote, it would play well to their narrative.  By contrast, a two-way debate, where Clegg and Farage were seen more as representatives of In and Out than of their parties, isn’t the same kind of thing.

The more important precedent that has been set is that the debates went ahead at all, and were prompted by a relatively minor media player.  The same dynamics will apply next year which means we can be almost certain that there’ll be a repeat of 2010 in some shape.  Now we know that the broadcasters are prepared to empty-chair (or empty-lectern?) a leader who refuses, none can refuse.  Unlike last week, there would be huge benefits to the two or three men who did turn up and endless easy goals to be scored at the expense of their absent opponent(s). 

    Put simply, if one leader refuses, it almost automatically means the others will accept.  Likewise, once two accept, the other(s) will have to follow suit.  Much the same applies to the broadcasters themselves.

So where does that leave UKIP?  The existing Ofcom rules mean that they won’t be included: they simply don’t have a strong enough record at general elections.  That’s only half the story though.  On that basis, Ross Perot would have been excluded from the 1992 US presidential debates, when he was polling in the high teens (and had led the polls before his temporary withdrawal from the race), but would have been included in 1996 when his polling was in single figures.  Current form matters.  If UKIP do win the European elections in May and show strongly in the locals, they may have a case to challenge Ofcom’s stance, in the courts if needs be.

The question is whether UKIP will do that well, because the stakes are far higher than an extra MEP or two; the nature of the 2015 election campaign may be determined by it.

David Herdson


Farage’s performance last night makes it much harder to keep him out of the GE2015 debates

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Unless Dave agrees he’ll be accused of running scared

The big consequence of last night’s widely perceived victory by Farage in the debate with Clegg is that it’s going to be a lot harder keeping the UKIP leader out of the leaders’ debates at GE2015.

Quite simply Clegg is now not in a position to object while Ed Miliband has already indicated that he wouldn’t oppose such a move.

So the ball will be in Cameron’s court and it will be a tricky one to play.

The initial plan was to rely on Farage’s exclusion because UKIP is not likely to be deemed by the Electoral Commission a “major party” at the general election. This means that the broadcasters don’t have to pay the purples the same attention as that given to the old three parties.

But after last night that is going to be a lot harder to sustain even if, as is highly likely, the EC refuses to give a party that didn’t win any MPs at GE2010 that status. Of course in the meantime UKIP could have won a parliamentary by election.

    So the PM would have two choices. To go ahead with debates on the same basis as 2010 with the leader perceived as the loser last night included but the “winner” not there or to oppose the whole concept of debates

Whichever way he plays it Cameron will be accused time and time again of running scared of the UKIP leader and using the Commission as an excuse. That could become an issue itself in the run up to polling day.

Whatever it gives UKIP a great peg to argue on which will reinforce its argument about the whole system.

The genie is now out of the bottle.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


On a TV near you from 7pm: Nick versus Nigel – the second leg BBC2

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Because this is on BBC2 it’s expected that it will get a much larger audience.

Who’ll win? As has been said many times before – both of them.

This thread will be updated.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


The big question is whether and how the debate impacts on voting in the Euros and GE2015

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The LBC Leaders  Debate  Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage   YouTube (1)

Did both leaders achieve their goals?

The experience of US presidential debates and, of course, the British GE2010 is that “winning” the debate is not necessarily a good pointer to its impact on voting.

For Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg the critical upcoming election is on May 22nd – the Euros. Farage has built up expectations about a UKIP win on votes while at current polling levels it is not inconceivable that the LDs could lose all their MEPs.

Both men hope that these two debates, the second one is next Wednesday on the BBC, will reinforce their party’s positions.

    Hopefully we’ll get some new EP 2014 numbers this weekend and my reading is that both will see their parties up a notch.

For although the audience for last night wasn’t large (YouGov had to poll many thousands to find enough people to survey for their quickie poll) the media coverage will widen awareness.

The rationale for Clegg’s challenge in the first place was to try to court LAB and CON EU-backers as well as encouraging former party voters to come back on board.

Farage was always going to benefit because he had the platform and that will be helped by the YouGov instant reaction result.

My main reservation about the UKIP leader’s performance last night was his comment on Ukraine and the EU suggesting that he prefers Mr. Putin to Brussels. This is something that he might later regret. The Tories, in particular, will likely use that against him,

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


The post Nick v Nigel debate reaction

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

The YouGov poll on who won the debate is out.


My own feeling is that the real loser from tonight is David Cameron and The Tories, today and next week, Nigel Farage has been given one hour to hoover up the Euro-sceptic vote.

I’ll update this thread if further polling is released.



EU referendum poll blow for Farage only hours before the TV clash with Clegg

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014