The debate about the debates
Everyone is sagely offering reasons why this or that party can’t or shouldn’t participate, as if we have done these debates for centuries, always exactly so. We haven’t. We only had the first ones in 2010 and the political landscape has changed significantly. So, since we are making it up as we go along, why not make it inclusive, diverse and interesting?
At the very least we must keep the criteria internally consistent. There is not a formula which could yield the result of Conservatives and Labour in three debates, LibDems in two and Ukip in one, with all others excluded. Not a single logical formula. I have read both the watchdog’s recommendation and the BBC’s leaked draft coverage proposal. They are, frankly, bunkum.
If we go by the last election result, Ukip shouldn’t be included. If we go by number of MPs several other parties should be. The DUP has the fourth highest number of MPs currently. If we go by poll popularity, the LibDems should not be anywhere near two debates and the SNP certainly should be. If we go by the last European Elections, then the Greens should be in. The current composition smacks of dodgy, reverse-engineered sophistry, used to justify a result already predetermined by some grey man who evidently knows what we need to see.
On top of everything, this questionable methodology has ended up excluding all female, all non-English leaders. As a matter of fact, the debates will take place entirely among white, straight, rich, well-off, middle-aged, English blokes, from a tiny area in the South East.
Nor do I have any time for this “not a national party” nonsense. No parties stand in every constituency in the UK – none. We assume that a party which only stands in one nation has nothing to offer to the political debate. We spent the last year being told how valuable the UK’s constituent nations are and how they make us the great nation that we are (whatever, but different blog). What if one of the major parties has to enter a coalition with Plaid and/or SNP after the election – would it not be useful for the electorate to get to know them?
There are no hard and fast rules. We are making this up and the conventions we establish are important. Let’s be inclusive in our national debate. Let’s not complain about stale politics, then do our very best to keep it stale.