Ukip's Nigel Farage should take part in the leaders' debates ahead of the 2015 general election, according to the coalition of broadcasters who have submitted proposals.
On Monday, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky announced joint plans to broadcast three leaders debates, with the one on ITV featuring the Ukip leader. The debates in 2010, the first of their kind in the UK, were watched by 22million people, with three of the main party leaders taking part.
The four broadcasters have written to David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, saying they were responding to a different "political climate" in inviting all four party leaders. The invitation has sparked ire with the Green party, who also have one MP in parliament, the same as Ukip.
Greens leader Natalie Bennett said the proposals were "untenable".
"It would represent a huge failure by the broadcasters to meet the democratic aspirations of the British people and refusal to give voters a genuine opportunity for free choice in the elections," she wrote in a blog for HuffPost UK.
"One of their parties, the Liberal Democrats, are polling about the same as the Green Party and that the Green Party won significantly more votes, and three times as many seats, in the recent European elections.
"In the European election we got far more votes per minute of mainstream airtime than any other major party. Voters had to come looking for us, and they did. The broadcasters are failing if they don't offer the Green Party option to voters who are clearly looking for it. The Green Party must be in these debates. Democracy demands it."
Why is Nigel Farage invited to a TV debate with leaders, but the Green Party isn't? They both have one MP in parliament. Political bias.— Billy Winchester (@BillyWinchester) October 13, 2014
Many problems with broadcaster TV format incl. the Green Party being left out of a four party debate. Ukip joins the cosy Westminster club.— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) October 13, 2014
So where are the Green Party in this TV debate plan? Unacceptable that they aren't invited & UKIP are. They have same number of MPs as UKIP.— Jack Green (@JackJGreen) October 13, 2014
The Scottish National Party also voiced its disapproval, with SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP calling it "another cosy Westminster carve-up."
"What the London-based broadcasters' are proposing fails in their duty to their viewers in Scotland, and simply doesn't reflect the reality of politics across the UK today. The broadcasters have the cheek to say that their proposed format factors in 'changes in the political landscape' to justify including UKIP - entirely ignoring the fact that the SNP are now by far the third largest political party in the UK.
"Current Westminster voting intentions put the SNP in the lead in Scotland, and it is clearly wrong that the leader of the third biggest political party in the UK should be shut out of these network debates. Yet they are proposing to include UKIP, despite the fact the SNP won six seats at the last general election to UKIP's none - and with the SNP at 40% in Scotland for the general election, to UKIP's 4%."
"This looks like yet another cosy Westminster carve-up, and we need to know what discussions the broadcasters have had with the other parties, and why there has been absolutely no discussion with the SNP.
"These proposals are clearly inappropriate for Scotland, and cannot stand."
The proposals are:
- Sky News and Channel 4 will co-produce a head-to-head debate between the two leaders who could become Prime Minister – Cameron and Miliband, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, and presented by Sky News' Kay Burley who will introduce the programme and present the post-debate analysis.
- BBC One will host a debate between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders, presented by David Dimbleby.
- ITV will host a debate between the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip leaders, chaired by Julie Etchingham.
The Liberal Democrats are expected to strongly contest the idea of a head-to-head prime ministerial debate proposed by Sky and Channel 4 News. "It's a matter of record that we supported the same format as last time, three leaders at all three debates," a spokesman told HuffPost, saying the party was still considering their formal response to the plans.
Farage said the plans were "better than it could have been" but hinted that he would push for inclusion in the BBC debate.
Decision is better than it could have been. If political landscape continues to change we would expect and ask for inclusion in a 2nd debate— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) October 13, 2014
The debates are set to take place during the six-week campaign period, on April 2, April 16 and April 30 at locations around the UK, but have not yet been agreed to by party leaders. The broadcasters said that audiences would be asked to submit questions and the broadcasters plan to work with social media organisations including Twitter and Facebook to ensure the widest possible audience engagement.
It is Cameron who has been reticent to commit to TV debates for 2015, with both Farage and Miliband repeatedly challenging the prime minister to agree.
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In May this year, the Labour leader said the previous format of three debates between the three main party leaders over three weeks should be a "starting point" but that he was open to moves such as a less formal setting and greater voter participation in any repeat of the 2010 confrontations. He used a Radio Times article to call for immediate negotiations, accusing his main rival of being the "single biggest obstacle" to them going ahead and suggesting the Tories were keen to deny his cash-strapped party vital publicity.
Britain's first such debates, between Cameron, Gordon Brown and Clegg, were staged on the BBC, ITV and Sky News in 2010 after prolonged negotiations between the parties and the TV companies, which resulted in very strict rules on the style of questioning and the division of time for leaders' answers.
Cameron has since complained that they "took all the life out" of the campaign.
A spokesman for Number 10 said they had "noted" the proposals and would respond accordingly.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said it would be "hugely disappointing to go back to the old days of no TV debates".
But she was cautious about endorsing the format, saying the proposal for a two-party debate between Labour and the Conservatives "simply doesn’t reflect the way people see politics these days".
"Democracy is about hearing from everyone, not just from the two men most likely to be Prime Minister," she said. “People have changed since the heyday of the two-party system, and they want to hear a variety of voices in politics. The debates should be an opportunity to hear from the leaders of all parties which command a significant amount of support."