Will There Be Election Debates In 2015, And Who Will Fight Them?


Did you stay up to watch the final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? If you didn't it may have been your last chance to see a a series of face-to-face election clashes for some time.

It has been assumed the the experiment of holding debates in 2010 is here to stay. However the Tories hope to water down the contests expected to take place in 2015.

According to The Guardian “senior cabinet members” want to cut the number of election debates to from three to just one.

But the paper also reports that Channel 4 would like in on the action and plans to petition to hold its own, fourth, debate.

And any move to restrict the scope of debates would be heavily opposed by other parties including the SNP and Ukip who believe they were unfairly shut out last time around.

Many Tory MPs blame the David Cameron's failure to secure a majority on his decision to agree to the debates in 2010. And privately Miliband is believed to fancy his chances against Cameron in 2015.

It would be politically impossible for one party to be seen to torpedo the debates in 2015, but one way out would be to show public willing while scuppering them behind the scenes.

However The Guardian’s report is the latest to suggest No. 10 wants to dilute the impact of the head-to-head leadership contests.

It has been suggested that the Tory leadership would prefer to take the debates out of the election campaign to stop them taking over the entire four-week period.

ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie has said insiders want to propose the debates be scheduled for January, February and March.

Barack Obama’s dramatic plunge in support after his lackluster performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney served to illustrate the impact the disruptive effect the contests can have on a race.

Downing Street communications director, Craig Oliver, who travelled to the US to study the debates, will have studied Romney’s recovery in the polls.

The Conservatives Party has already demonstrated its unwillingness to repeat the apparent mistake of 2010 by shutting down quickly, after a brief flutter, any talk that the prime minister would debate Alex Salmond over Scottish independence.

On October 15 Downing Street performed one of its quickest U-turns yet when it suggested the prime minister would consider a debate with Alex Salmond, then changed its mind 19 minutes later and dismissed the idea.

Unsurprisingly Salmond is keen on a face-to-face showdown. “I think that would be highly appropriate,” he said earlier this month. “Now, next week, next year, any time from now until the autumn of 2014.”

Even if Salmond fails to win Scottish independence, it is likely the SNP would petition heavily to get their leader into the UK general election debates in 2015.

Cameron will also face pressure to allow Ukip leader Nigel Farage to participate – a nightmare scenario for the prime minister who could see the eurosceptic party win enough votes to prevent him winning a crucial number of seats.

A Ukip spokesman told The Huffington Post UK that the party was “not stupid” and recognised the argument for including the party in any debate held today would be hard to win as the party does not have any MPs.

However he said Ukip would have a much stronger case after the European elections in 2014, in which it expects to come first or second.

“If we get 20-25% in the European elections then we believe that the argument over whether or not we should be in speaks for itself.

“Of course we think he [Farage] should be involved, we are besting the Lib Dems in polls.”

The debates will also be a tricky proposition for Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader was the star of the 2010 debates, with his performance in the first clash trigging the “Cleggmania” that saw his personal approval ratings go through the roof.

Clegg’s popularity failed to translate into extra seats in the Commons for the Lib Dems, but Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, argues in today’s Times that his appearance on the same platform as Gordon Brown and Cameron made the idea of forming a coalition with him “more sellable than it would otherwise have been”.

It will be next to impossible for the deputy prime minister to repeat the feat in 2015 having spent five years in coalition with Cameron, as he has previously admitted.

"If we keep doing this, we won't find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debate,” he was over heard telling the prime minister after they staged a joint appearance in March 2011.

The leader most keen on a repeat of the debate format seen in 2010 is likely to be Ed Miliband. An aide to the Labour leader said: "Ed Believes in engaging with the public and bringing more people into politics rather than finding ways of keeping them out.”

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