During the 2011 election, many undecided minds were made when the then leaders David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown all took to a podium in order to explain their policies and debate each other on their viability as leader of the country. The debates were historic, as no such format had ever been adopted in the United Kingdom, though it has been commonplace in the US for a number of decades.
For the 2015 election, the expectation that a new tradition could be forged with a second round of debates, and sensing there was a new powerful party in British politics, the coalition of broadcasters in charge of planning these debates (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 & Sky) proposed that Nigel Farage be included in the debates, representing UKIP. This decision caused tidal waves across the UK, with the Sky number coming under fire from citizens who didn't believe that UKIP's voice should be heard in the debates.
The Prime Minister too took umbrage to the suggestion that UKIP might be represented but parties of equal size like the Green Party would be ignored altogether. In reaction, he then stated that he would not take part in the debates unless all national parties were represented too, like the Greens. Nick Clegg attacked the Prime Minister for this, claiming that he attempting to water down the debates in order to limit the damage having UKIP on live TV could do to his party's support.
This put Sky in a tough position, needing the Prime Minister to take part in the debates but not wanting to bend over backwards and give the government control over how the debates were held. As such, the broadcasting coalition have suggested another format which would give airtime to other major parties but signal out the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for a one on one debate. The new proposals are as follows:
- One debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition
- Two debates involving the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, The SNP, The Green Party and Plaid Cymru.
These debates would take place during the General Election campaign with proposed dates of April 2nd, 16th and 30th. All of the leaders have been invited to join in the debate, but the broadcasters stress that should any leader decline, the debates will go on without them.
These new plans should ease fears around public exposure to UKIP and give the operators at the Sky helplinea breather, but it's as yet unknown what the Prime Minister will make of the debates in their new shape. In a statement, the broadcasters stated the following: “Over the three months since the original proposal was put forward, the broadcasters have also continued to monitor the electoral landscape, as we promised to do, taking into account the polling evidence, and the expressions of public support for the debates to go ahead and for a wider range of parties to be included in the debates. In view of these factors, the broadcasters are now inviting party leaders to take part in the following debates within the official election campaign and approximately two weeks apart."
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