Election debates – new platform plan from broadsheet alliance

broasheets17:38 Wednesday 11th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS BERROW: Ed Miliband and David Cameron have traded personal insults in a bitter Commons exchange over the proposed General Election TV debates. The Prime Minister says his rival is ‘weak and despicable’. The Labour Leader says his opponent is ‘weak and a bully.’ So are we anywhere nearer to getting these debates on TV? Well I’m joined by our Political Correspondent Paul Rowley. Paul, what do you make of all of this?
PAUL ROWLEY: I have to confess Chris, in more than a quarter of a century at Westminster, I can’t think of a Prime Minister’s Question Time that had so much political invective, so much venom, so much nastiness. David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of being ‘weak and despicable’. Ed Miliband said the Prime Minister was ‘useless’, ‘pathetic’, ‘a bully’ and ‘a chicken’. Have a listen to this, which is pretty X-certificate..
DAVID CAMERON: The truth is he’s weak and despicable, and wants to crawl to power in Alec Salmond’s pocket. (CHEERS)
ED MILIBAND: Mr. Speaker. If he’s so confident, if he’s so confident, why is he chickening out of the debate with me? (FURTHER CHEERS)
PAUL ROWLEY: All of which suggests one thing Chris I think, there’s an election in two months time, there’s all to play for, and our politicians are getting decidedly edgy.
CHRIS BERROW: So the big question is, will these debates actually take place?

PAUL ROWLEY: I doubt if all of them will take place. The broadcasters want three of them during the campaign, two of them involving seven party leaders, the three main parties plus UKIP, The Greens and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists. One would be a straight head to head between the two men who are fighting to become Prime Minister, David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Six of them are up for it. David Cameron says he’ll take part in one debate with all seven, but not during the campaign, before the campaign starts, which means if he gets his way, it will have to happen in the next two and a half weeks. The Prime Minister’s accused of being ‘frit’ in the old Margaret Thatcher expression. The Conservatives privately don’t want a straight head to head with Ed Miliband, because it risks giving the Labour Leader equal status. And as the incumbent, David Cameron has everything to lose, and very little to win. The broadcasters are saying they still want to go ahead with these debates. The difficulty is without the Prime Minister, it may be risky legally during an election campaign in terms of balance, and also I suppose it would be a bit like Hamlet without the Prince, England without Wayne Rooney, or dare I say, Radio Cambridgeshire’s DriveTime programme without Chris Berrow.
CHRIS BERROW: (LAUGHS) OK. But how is this all going to be resolved at the end of the day?
PAUL ROWLEY: Well if it is resolved, with difficulty. One option though would be .. that’s been announced today ..is there could be an online debate involving five of the leaders, if that’s not even more confusing. It would be the three main party leaders plus UKIP and The Greens. The idea has been put forward by two national newspapers, the Guardian, which tends to favour the Labour Party, and the Telegraph, which is in favour of the Conservative Party, along with YouTube, which as a debate could be carried by all the main broadcasters. Now nobody’s firmly against it, which suggests it could be a runner. Although I’d imagine the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists won’t be happy if they’re (not) included. And the Irish parties too are not happy because there’s no-one from Northern Ireland in these debates. So even though they were a novelty last time Chris, the first ever in the UK, 22 million of us watched them, they may not go ahead this time. Although if the opinion polls are right and nobody wins an outright majority at the coming election, if the parties can’t come to an agreement, well we could have another election maybe later this year and they might just have time to get round the table and talk about possibly having an odd TV debate.
CHRIS BERROW: Well that’s our Political Correspondent Paul Rowley, with the latest on the TV debates.