After announcing a snap General Election last week, Prime Minister May was quick to announce that she would not participate in any leadership debates. Even with the talk of broadcasters threatening to 'empty chair' May, she has still failed to commit to participating in what has become an election hallmark, with debates being a vital way for the electorate to make their democratic decision. Jeremy Corbyn has since followed in suit, declaring that without the presence of the Prime Minister he also would not make the direct appeal to voters that a leadership debate involves.
Since the televised leadership debate was introduced by John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential Election, it has globally become a permanent fixture that voters have become accustomed to, it has become a vital part of choosing whom to vote for. One only has to look to our transatlantic neighbours to see the impact and success of leadership debates in engaging potential voters, with over 80 million individuals tuning into each of the three US Presidential debates. In the UK, televised debates were highly successful during the 2015 General Election and the recent EU Referendum, providing an opportunity to engage a mass electorate who would not normally have such access to the political system.
Prime Minister May has argued that there is no need to participate in a leadership debate as she engages in debate with the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn every Wednesday in Parliament. However, I argue that this is not enough, leadership debates should not be optional as they have become something that the electorate both wants and needs in order to make their democratic decision. With the vast percentage of the electorate not being able to watch PMQs each Wednesday, with work and educational commitments inconveniencing viewing ability, a prime-time televised leadership debate is needed and can be expected if the voters are to make an informed decision.
Importantly, a televised leadership debate allows for a chance for all voters and especially first time voters and the younger demographic to actively engage with the political system. Seeing the party leaders on prime-time television, rather than just reading about them in newspapers, allows the leaders to take on a more human and accessible approach to the voters. This provides an opportunity for politicians to reach out to the blank-slates, the first-time voters with no previous political ideology. These are the individuals who need aiding in becoming the democratically engaged citizens that can help in avoiding an apathetic future for our nation. The importance of televised leadership debates in educating and engaging the electorate means that they should become a stable part of any election process.
Four organisations have teamed up to address this problem and appeal to the youth demographic through this engaging and democratically important method. 45forthe45th, Undivided, Simple Politics and Talk Politics are working together to organise and host a leadership debate specifically aimed at 18-24 year olds. The youth political engagement organisations have teamed up in the hope that a televised debate addressing the political issues that matter to young people will motivate and politically engage an often unacknowledged, ignored and apathetic demographic.
They propose a #GE17YouthDebate, which will be a fantastic opportunity for the parties to speak directly to young people and encourage the increased political involvement of the generation that will make up our future. They are calling on the leaders to engage in dialogue with these pioneering organisations and reach out to potential young voters and debate for the younger generations of Great Britain.
We should support and praise the work of the four organisations tackling this problem and do all we can to ensure the success of their attempts. What we need is for the party leaders to acknowledge the importance of political debates. We need both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to respect the electorate's wants and needs, understand the importance of young voters and participate in a televised debate for young people.
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