Voters have a right to informative discussions as part of the electoral processby Michela Palese / November 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
Not long after MPs voted to hold a snap election, ITV announced that it would hold a TV debate between the two main party leaders on 19th November. Other broadcasters soon followed, with the BBC proposing a series of debates in the lead-up to polling day, including a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and a seven-way podium debate between senior figures of the main political parties.
Uproar soon ensued over who should be allowed to take part in the TV debates, with the smaller parties criticising their lack of representation on our screens. They—rightly—argued that televised leaders’ debates should fairly reflect the choices facing the electorate, rather than attempt to retrofit the diversity of political discourse into an outdated binary format which is no longer representative of our fragmented party system and fading electoral loyalties.
Endless debates over TV debates have in themselves become a recurring feature of election campaigns, with rows over format, participating parties, style and content. Indeed, ever since TV leaders’ debates were first mooted in the run-up to the 1964 election, disagreements have developed over whether debates should be held at all and, if so, what they should look like. It was only in 2010 that any agreement was reached and the UK’s first ever televised election leaders’ debates took place.
Around 10m people tuned into the first debate on 15th April 2010, with roughly 22.5m watching the three debates that election year. The election edition of BBC Question Time in 2017 had an audience of around four million and research by the Electoral Reform Society found that over a third of viewers said the debate influenced their vote, and 56 per cent said that the debates were important in helping them make their decision.
Since 2010 there has been a growing recognition of the importance of televised leaders’ debates and the need for them to become a permanent feature of the election process. Some parties have even suggested placing TV debates on a statutory footing or having an independent body oversee the process.
But so far there has been very little done to make this happen. Earlier this year an e-petition was set up by Sky News, and backed by the ERS, which called for the establishment of an independent Debates Commission. Despite cross-party…