17:19 Monday 13th October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: Plans for three TV debates in the run up to next year’s General Election have been put forward by the UK’s main broadcasters. One of the debates would include UKIP Leader Nigel Farage. Another of the debates would exclude LibDem Leader Nick Clegg. The proposals have been ruffling feathers in Westminster, where we can now hear from our Political Correspondent Alan Soady.
ALAN SOADY: Well the first of these debates Chris would be something different to what we saw last time around in 2010. This would be hosted by Sky News and Channel 4 jointly, and it would just be a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, who the broadcasters would argue are the two men who are most likely, or one of them, to be the next Prime Minister. The second of the debates would be hosted by the BBC. That would be a little more like we saw last time round, in that it would be David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg battling it out. The third of the debates under these proposals would be on ITV, and that would have those same three main party leaders plus also it would have Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader standing alongside them, taking part in that debate as well. The main broadcasters all got together to come up with this proposal to put to the politicians, and they argue the reason for it being different from in 2010 is they say what they call the ‘political landscape’ has changed.
CHRIS MANN: Relatively new ground of course for the broadcasters. But why are some of the party leaders unhappy?
ALAN SOADY: Ah. Well there are all sorts of gripes over all of this. Even last time round it was pretty difficult to make everybody even vaguely happy. This time let’s start with the LibDems. Well they’re pretty furious at the idea of Nick Clegg not being allowed into the first of the debates. Then if we look at UKIP, you might think they would be cock-a-hoop to be sharing the platform with at least one of them. Well Nigel Farage is saying well yes, it’s progress. He’s happy to that extent. But he says if his party continues to make progress, particularly if it wins a by-election that’s taking place in Kent next month, then he would expect to be taking part in more than one of those debates. There are also gripes from the Scottish National Party, from Plaid Cymru in Wales, and certainly from the Green Party, who say look, UKIP has one MP, we have one MP. How come they get a place on these TV debates if we don’t? And even David Cameron is suggesting that he thinks the Greens have a point.
DAVID CAMERON: I’m in favour of TV debates, but you’ve got to make sure you come up with a proposal that everyone can agree to, and I can’t see how you can have one party in that has an MP in Parliament and not another party. But anyway, I’m sure clever people can ge together and sort these issues out.
ALAN SOADY: There are though one or two cynics around Westminster Chris who are wondering exactly why David Cameron is coming out on the side of the Greens. Some wonder whether it may be that the Prime Minister doesn’t want Nigel Farage to look like he is one of the four main party leaders. That he would want it to look like a debate that included smaller parties of which he would attempt to portray UKIP as one of them. Ed Miliband the Labour Leader says that the Prime Minister should just come out and back these debates.
CHRIS MANN: History tells us of course that these can make a difference. It is fifty four years since Nixon lost out, it’s thought because John F. Kennedy beat him in a TV debate. That’s what got everyone excited about it. And are these about to become a fixture of our life too?
ALAN SOADY: I think it looks as though they are here to stay, if the broadcasters can finally get all these different parties to agree this time round. And I think there will be a lot of pressure from the media on the politicians to agree to this. If they do happen again this time, it seems difficult to imagine in future elections that we wouldn’t have the same sort of thing. It would be really hard for a politician to reject it. But then it’s not really very clear how much of a difference they make. Of course you talk about Nixon/Kennedy, and people did think that then that did make a difference. When we had them first time round in this country four years ago, a lot of people thought at the time that they were going to benefit Nick Clegg. And do you remember that the other two leaders, particularly Gordon Brown, kept using phrases like ‘I agree with Nick.’ And the LibDems had a bounce in the opinion polls as a result of that. And yet when it actually came to the result of that election, the LibDems ended up with fewer MPs that they’d had before the election. So it didn’t seem quite to carry through all the way to election day. I think this time round though what Westminster types like me will be watching for particularly will be the effect of potentially Nigel Farage being there, on a platform with the three main party leaders.
CHRIS MANN: Alan Soady reporting there from Westminster.