‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It,’ was the infamous headline of The Sun newspaper when John Major shocked the world (well maybe that is slightly over the top) and pulled off victory in the 1992 General Election. The sheer arrogance of the editor to believe that their endorsement was the decisive factor in the outcome of the election is disgusting but 23 years later and the broadcasters are attempting to do the same.
The broadcasters have fucked up pretty badly if we are being honest. The whole format of the debates has been debated at length and several different proposals have come and gone. They believe that they have the right to decide who gets free air time in prime time, which flies against the rules of equal opportunity for ‘major’ parties in election time but who cares about rules and fairness, they have an election to decide!
I’ve long said that any party who is fielding enough candidates to potentially form a government deserve to be involved and given equal billing. That means UKIP and the Greens should get the same air time as the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems in this regard. The moment they decided for some unknown reason that United Kingdom broadcasters should give national parties as much of a platform on channels that broadcast primarily in areas where people can’t actually vote for them is bonkers but they are desperate.
The broadcasters are desperate to be seen to be doing the right and fair thing, even if it leads to even more unfairness. Either the leader of every freaking party gets in or those who are fielding enough candidates to form a government. Having a mish-mash is stupid but the broadcasters know this, they aren’t stupid.
So now we have a situation where the broadcasters are dictating the whole flow of the election, which is nothing short of a disgrace. I’m not defending the Prime Minister, I’ll get to him later, but for the broadcasters to believe that they have the right to decide how the timetable and attention of the General Election goes flies in the face of fairness and democracy. Yes, the broadcasters are attacking democracy.
They and they alone are dictating the terms of what will be the most watched and the most important national moments in the General Election (unless of course something dramatic happens on the election trail). It isn’t the broadcasters job to decide who gets what air time, they should give everyone who can form a government exactly the same time.
Now we have a position where they want to give Ed Miliband 90 minutes of uninterrupted air time in prime time on both Sky News and Channel 4. Essentially ensuring victory for the Labour party unless Ed Miliband screws up spectacularly, which isn’t out of the question. It would probably be a decent thing for my lot as the Lib Dems are in mostly Tory facing seats and the Prime Minister will look weak and a coward and that can’t hurt, still doesn’t make it fair though.
Now turning my attention to the PM. He doesn’t want the debates as he has nothing to gain and everything to lose. In 2010 all the party leaders involved and deemed as ‘major’ parties had things to gain by having the debates, hence why they took place. They all had a common goal and potential ground to make up. It is why Tony Blair didn’t want them in 2001 & 2005, he had nothing to gain and was cruising to victory. Cameron might not be cruising to victory but when you are seen as a better public speaker than your primary opponent and he is seen as actually very poor, if you win then you do what you are expected so you gain nothing, if you don’t win convincingly then it will be spun as a defeat. So I can see why he doesn’t want them.
My issue is how he bleated about having the Greens involved and now they are and the proposals are out there he doesn’t want them at all. Had he drawn a line in the sand at the start and said that he didn’t want the debates and thought they distracted from the actual campaign in 2010 then I’d be more comfortable with his stance. Had he said that all along it is highly unlikely that the broadcasters would have gone ahead but he gave them an in and now he is either running scared or more likely, knows he has nothing to gain.
Personally I liked the debates last time and I would like them again but the proposals from the broadcasters is poor and not well thought out. Essentially we have four broadcasters who all want a share of the pie and that has led to what we have. The best solution would be to have it sorted that every year we have whatever debates but it is the same format every election. That would be fair and the same for all parties going forward.
Have it always x amount of weeks before the election, have it on x channel and involving all the leaders from parties that are deemed as ‘major’ by OfCom. For national parties, they should get the same air time on BBC Wales, BBC Scotland, BBC Northern Ireland and commercial terrestrial broadcast partners. If Westminster leaders wanted to go to a Scottish debate or whether they wanted to send the leaders of their parties in those countries, either/or. That would be fair.
If the broadcasters got pissy then have it on a rotation. One year ITV gets the first, then the next the second, the next the last and so on. We can’t have a situation like we have now where a leader is dictating terms (like Blair) or where certain parties get preferential treatment from the broadcasters.
The whole thing has been a fuck up from start to finish. If the broadcasters empty chair Cameron and actually go ahead with the debates without the Tories then fuck me, they will have helped directly decide the outcome of the election (as they would anyway with the current proposal – a party of government isn’t allows in one debate and a party who are riding at around one sixth of the votes in national polls are also frozen out of one – that isn’t right nor fair).
This is now a game of chicken where David Cameron can’t win. He’s put himself in that position but the broadcasters haven’t exactly helped things. The electorate of the United Kingdom deserve better of their Prime Minister but also deserve better from their broadcasters. They should be fair and impartial but instead they’ve decided that they are more important than fairness and democracy and that stinks. The General Election outcome should not be influenced by the selfishness of broadcasters but now we are in a position where whatever they do, they are essentially influencing how people will vote and that my friends isn’t how it should be.
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