Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I am fully behind Sky News and their TV debate ultimatum

I think Sky News have made an excellent move with their decision to broadcast a leaders' debate ahead of the next general election.

John Ryler, head of Sky News in The Times today explains the way they will approach this which seems very fair including involving an outside body such as the Hansard Society or The Electoral Commission to oversse it and also to make the unedited feed available to other broadcasters. He ends by saying:

The decision for the politicians is simple: fill them (the chairs) or leave them empty. I give this guarantee: the cameras will be rolling and anyone who doesn’t show up better be ready to explain themselves to the public.

Fantastic! I wonder if Sky have been reading this blog as that is exactly what I advocated a few weeks ago on here in my post "Gordon Brown should be empty chaired". I suggested that as long as all 3 main leaders had been invited then the debate should go ahead even if one of them declined to participate and asked if any broadcaster has the courage to do this. Now I have my answer. I would like to see Gordon Brown try to explain to the public why he did not turn up if he chooses not to.

In reality, now that Sky have thrown down the gauntlet, I think this debate will go ahead. Apparently Cameron has already accepted. I expect Nick Clegg will too. That leaves Brown but he has little to lose now anyway. It's not like he is miles ahead in the polls and would be worried about a potential "game changer". Frankly, from his perspective he needs one himself now and a debate at least gives that possibility (although I can't see it happening in his favour to be honest).

The other thing about this is as Stephen Glenn also points out today, once it happens once, it will be very difficult for any future leader to refuse to participate in one as a precedent will have been set.

Fair play to Sky News for this move. Someone needed to do it.

UPDATE: As I expected, Nick Clegg has just confirmed on Twitter that he relishes the opportunity and will take part in the debate.


Letters From A Tory said...

These debates would be good opportunities to really push the party leaders beyond empty election rhetoric. That said, it depends on who is asking the questions and what format they will use?

Costello said...

Very much looking forward to this. Great, ballsy thinking by Sky to throw the gauntlet the way they have and will indeed be interesting to see if Clegg and Cameron manage to provide us with anything other than tired party rhetoric. There's no point even wondering if Brown can - he'll trundle out the usual lot of lying statistics and stereotypes of "Tory" cuts and "we are the party of the many" etc etc and bugger all else. The danger for Cameron will be the possibility Brown gains sympathy simply by being beasted by him - as he has been repeatedly in PMQs - with people rallying for the 'working class' PM against what they perceive as the smug public school aristocrat.

manwiddicombe said...

Why haven't they invited Lucas, Griffin and Farage as well? Or will they be hosting a League 1 debate to complement this Premiership affair?

To only invite Clegg, Cameron and Brown could be seen as reinforcing the idea that there are only 3 choices of party at the election.

Simon Fawthrop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Fawthrop said...

Further to Captainff, why invite Clegg? There is no way that he will be the next Prime Minister so why should he steal time from the two main protagonists?

Voter said...

... which is why I favour a more proportional system where Mr Clegg could have a voice.

Why should the Green party have a number of MPs (0 I think currently) which does not reflect their national support?

If there was a system which gave that proportionality, it would encourage smaller parties to form around single issues, suck support away from the big three and encourage them to take policies from those smaller parties

Mark Thompson said...

Captainff - you have to draw the line somewhere. John Ryley in The Times article I linked to explained that the 3 main parties are the ones with significant representation both in the country and in Westminster. That is his criteria.

If I had my way there would be several debates, probably 3 with the 3 main where the focus each time is on different areas and then another one or two where the smaller parties could be represented. Realistically this is not going to happen (this time around) but we should aim for what is practicable. Every time in the past arguments like this have led to there being no debate at all. Let's get one done on the terms described and them maybe the format can be enhanced next time.

TGS - good blue touch paper lighting ;) Obviously you would expect me to say this but the Lib Dems generally get about 20% of the vote at an election and despite having an electoral system rigged against them 10% of the seats in parliament. Excluding them to make it a head-to-head contest would make a nonsense of the whole thing and really would turn it into a presidential contest. Sky have obviously recognised this and it is why they have drawn the line where they have.

Voter - you're preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned!

Duncan Stott said...

I feel Sky News are being a bit naughty here, and may have crossed the line in terms of their remit to remain impartial.

Brown has made it clear that he is not in favour of taking part in a TV debate. By raising the issue despite this, they are directly creating a problem for Labour, to the benefit of the Tories and Lib Dems.

I also question whether a news organisation should be deliberately creating news, rather than just reporting it.

Lastly, I don't understand why Brown isn't jumping at the chance to take part in this debate. Labour's poll defecit to huge, and anything that has the potential to shake things up is surely what they need right now.

Mark Thompson said...

Duncan - you do have a point but what I keep coming back to is that if someone other than the politicians did not seize the initiative on this it will never happen and it is crazy that in an advanced democracy like ours we have never had a leadership TV debate in the run up to a general election.

If is was left up to the politicians there will always be one who does not want to have the debate. At least Sky have now forced the issue.

Voter said...

Mark, I am not preaching to the choir - I think.

You support MC STV.

As I mentioned above, I favour a more proportional system whereby the national vote share for the Greens is reflect by the number of Green MPs.

This is not MC STV.

Mark Thompson said...

STV multi-member would almost certainly give the Greens a few seats in parliament. There is enouh Green support in enough places for that to happen. The same goes for UKIP.

Where I do not accord with you though as you rightly say is a purely proportional system because of the problems that these systems throw up around lists and/or top-up MPs creating two-tiers of MPs etc.

Voter said...

Okay, so you are saying that disenfranchising the Greens is better than a two tier system. Why is this?

Yet, when you attack the current system, you do so precisely because it is disenfranchising.

You cannot have your cake and eat it.

If you take franchise away from the Greens, you must give it to someone else who does not deserve it...

Mark Thompson said...

No electoral system is perfect. I don't want to disenfranchise the Greens but I do not think we would ever get a referendum on an electoral system that included list elements to pass. There are too many out there who would call us on the evident failings.

I also have concerns about the anti-democratic nature of list systems myself.

For me (and the Lib Dems, and the ERS and lots of other people and organisations who have thought long and hard about this) STV multi-member seats is the least worst way of getting to a roughly proportional system.

What I advocate would be much, much more enfranchising than what we have at the moment and without many of the problems associated with other systems.

Voter said...

I do not put much store in appeals to organisations.

I think arguments should be decided on their merits. Otherwise we are back to excluding people.

Just saying "no system is perfect" sounds weak, especially when the system you put forward just happens to be the same system as is the policy of your party. That is a coincidence?

Labour party supporters support first past the post too.

Would you be willing to cite an argument from ERS that explains why MC STV is so good?

Mark Thompson said...

There is plenty on the ERS website about why they favour STV. They are also honest about its shortcoming too. They also have lots of information about pretty much any other electoral system you could care to mention. Check it out here.

I have argued on here about STV's merits on many occasions. Have a look here.

Also, I was in favour of STV for years before I joined the Lib Dems. I am not supporting it because it favours my party, i favour it anyway. In fact one of the reasons I joined the party is because of its support for STV.

Voter said...

I am aware of the ERS web site but it seems to be more of an introduction than a demonstration that MC STV is the best way (see the page on STV).

I think they are a pressure group which is not the same as a rational advocate.

There are pressure groups for all sorts of things you know. That does not make them right any more than the existence of Christian organisations makes the existence of God more probable.

Mark Thompson said...

OK, well as I said I have posted extensively about this subject so feel free to go back through my old posts to see how I back up my views.