Both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have said that they won’t attend the live ITV Leaders Debate in Media City tonight. The prime minister has calculated that the Tory lead is so large she can absorb any damage. The Labour Leader, if the current polls are right, has little to gain.
Surely that’s not the point. In a democracy our leaders have a responsibility to put themselves up before the voters. They have a moral obligation to have their policies and character tested in public and before the huge audiences that only television can bring. Anything else is contempt for voters and contempt for democracy itself.
The remaining party leaders will be taking part in a televised debate this evening on ITV at 8pm. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas will all be there for the two-hour show being broadcast from the dock10 studios in Salford.
ITV said the invitation to take part remains open until the programme starts at 8pm, but if they do not show up they will not being empty chaired as ITV said the stage will have “the right number of podiums for leaders who attend on the night”.
Yesterday, Channel 4 presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy posted on Twitter about the refusal of many politicians to answer questions from the public and journalists. He asked whether we should end the free airtime given to politicians who offer slogans, speeches and pooled clips without allowing their views to challenged.
“Would you like to end the slogan-dominated election speeches and see politicians properly questioned? The reason they get away with their current accountability-light campaigning is partly because the media facilitates it.
“We cover their speeches and events on a pooled (shared) basis so they know their slogans will be on TV and social media regardless. They get this free platform whether or not they agree to answer questions from either the public or journalists. If the media acted together it could say speeches only get covered if there is proper questioning. Would this be right or wrong?
“For example : Chancellor was to do interviews today. Yesterday said no presenters but yes to corrs. Now he’s just done a pooled clip.”
David Cameron didn’t want to do any of the TV debates, so to have come through them relatively unscathed is probably a result for him.
Nicola Sturgeon probably gained most from the two hour TV marathon last night. Although there was no consistency in the post broadcast polls, one from YouGov actually put Sturgeon on top with 28%. Miliband did better than Cameron with top or equal top position n three of the five polls.
Sturgeon looked to be making overtures to Labour by supporting the party’s plan to restore the 50p top rate of tax, clearly with a mind to support a minority Labour victory. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett looked uncomfortable at times as did Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, who targeted most of her points at the Welsh audience.
Clegg attacked Cameron for tax cuts for the rich and went on the offensive several time with his partner in government – clearly seeking to put clear blue water between his party and the Conservatives.
Still to come is a BBC debate involving just the opposition party leaders, so no Clegg or Cameron, on 16 April. There will also be a special Question Time on BBC One, one week before the election, with Cameron, Miliband and Clegg separately answering questions from a studio audience. Drama is unlikely to ensue, but watch this space.
The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel Four have named the dates for the three UK election TV debates. It’s still not clear that all the leaders will agree to take part or that the debates will go ahead if any decline.
The broadcaster drew lots and the order of the three programmes is scheduled to be :
2nd April: Debate between the Party Leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru on ITV.
16th April: Debate between the Party Leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru on BBC 1
30th April: Head to head debate between the Leader of the Conservative Party and the Leader of the Labour Party on Sky and Channel 4
ITV’s debate will be hosted by Julie Etchingham with David Dimbleby fronting the BBC show.
However commentators believe that David Cameron is unlikely to take part and The Liberal Democrats are angry that the broadcasters have put them on equal footing with Plaid Cymru.
An insider has said “it’s chaos. They are drawling lots before anything is even close to being agreed.”
If they happen at all the 2015 election TV debates will be reduced to a litany of dull, pre-prepared responses and little actual debate. Broadcasters have put forward proposals for two debates featuring the leaders of seven UK political parties, including the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru.
As the London Evening Standard reported last night that will mean just four or five questions with seven responses for each one. The leaders replies will be restricted to just sixty seconds. It’s not the kind of format that will allow any leader to shine or provoke any meaningful interaction. With just five or so minutes to speak Nick Clegg won’t have time to repeat the success of his 201 0 performances.
The only possibility of real interaction is a proposed head-to-head between just David Cameron and Ed Miliband as one of the three broadcast, but Cameron is unlikely to agree and may railroad the debates altogether.
Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said recently that they “edging towards a solution” but that Cameron was prepered to participate without giving a binding commitment. That sounds a lot like talks about talks. Many senior Conservatives think it would suit Cameron to keep debating the terms of the Debates until the clock runs out.
The TV debates aren’t responsible for the Hung Parliament that will follow Thursday’s election as surely as night follows day. A quarter of a century of decline in the combined Labour and Conservative share of the vote means that the two party stranglehold over UK politics is on its way out and Clegg’s TV performance was just a tipping point.
One of the wonderful things about the web is the accessibility of data. The Guardian has published all of the Guardian/ICM polling data since 1984. At Election 10 we took the combined Labour and Conservative share for every poll and created the graph above. In 1990 the two parties were claiming almost 90% of the vote between them this has shrunk to a little over 60% and it has been a steady consistent decline. A continuation of this would mean a government taking power that was opposed by around 65% of the population. Even our bizarre electoral system can’t sustain this.
To predict the future we must delve into the past. In this case the past is telling us that the party is very nearly over for the reds and blues and the voters will be calling time this Thursday.
Since we posted on the Leaders’ Debate Poll conducted by YouGov on Thursday there has been an extraordinary revelation. YouGov says their internet poll on the TV debate was conducted between 9.27pm and 9.31pm, so the majority of responses were taken during the debate not after it.
This is critical because it means the poll was taken during the summing up speeches. The speeches took place at the following times:
Brown 9:26:30 – 9:28:05
Cameron 9:28:08 – 9:29:17
Clegg 9:29:18 – 9:30:47
That means that over half of the polling would have been done before Clegg summed up in the debate. It also meant that up to half the responses were taken whilst Cameron was summing up and had sole command of the floor and the cameras. That’s a serious flaw in the process and is either incompetence or intentional distortion. You decide which you think it was.