Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Political television debates get the go-ahead
The leaders of the main UK political parties have agreed the terms with broadcasters which will see them go head-to-head in a series of three US-style live television debates, complete with studio audience. Each will be produced by a different broadcaster and all three will be recorded in different English regions. The BBC is also to hold separate party leader election debates in the devolved countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; I've already discussed my doubts over the benefits of such events here previously.
Whilst Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have all welcomed the news, fears previously expressed by smaller parties that they will be excluded appear to have come true. The SNP's Angus Robertson has been particularly scathing, arguing that "London-based parties are going to receive exponentially more exposure and coverage than other political parties. I think licence fee payers and voters in Scotland will be asking themselves why they are being treated as second class citizens."
This charge may be a little unfair; the main debates, after all, are specifically 'Prime-Ministerial' and aimed accordingly at parties which both stand throughout the UK and whose leaders can potentially become the country's next Prime Minister. The SNP, of course, match neither criteria; that they demand equal footing with the Big Three despite being effectively irrelevant to most of the British electorate outside Scotland come election time seems strangely at odds with their stance that - politically speaking - they want nothing to do with the rest of the United Kingdom in the first place.
There have also been concerns raised in certain quarters that - should the topic stray to matters pertaining only to England - the debates will become largely irrelevant to those regions of the UK with devolved administrations with their own particular remits. Again this seems unfair, given that these are Westminster-specific debates and that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to have their own tailored events.
Where a trick does seemed to have been missed, however, is that all these debates are to be filmed in England. That Westminster issues still have the potential to impact devolved regions of the UK would have been made all the more apparent had local audiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their chance to grill the UK's next Prime Minister.