Broadcasters have confirmed that there is an agreement over TV election debates for the United Kingdom’s general election. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, aimed to be involved in a debate involving seven party leaders although a head-to-head with Ed Miliband is unlikely. The agreement for debates comes after much discussion as to whether the Prime Minister was to be involved after he appeared to wish to be involved solely in a debate with all the major parties.
The negotiations for the debates were characterised by the Labour party leader, Ed Miliband, wanting a head-to-head debate with the Prime Minister. David Cameron, however, wanted one debate with all the major parties involved. Speaking after the agreement was made, Ed Miliband said, “I’m going to keep the offer of a head-to-head debate on the table right up to Election Day as it’s what the British people want.” The differences between the aims of the parties challenged the negotiations and the outcomes of the debates may highlight the important role that they are taking in the electoral process. In an increasingly technological era it may be seen as important to the electorate that there is an opportunity to evaluate each party for their policies.
The debates are to consist of four separate televised programmes. Firstly, on Thursday there is a live question and answer programme featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband separately. On 2 April, there are to be debates involving the seven party leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Greens. Two weeks later there is to be a debate involving the five opposition party leaders featuring Labour’s Ed Miliband, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, the Green’s Natalie Bennett and the leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood. Finally, on April 30th there is to be a BBC Question Time programme involving Ed Miliband, David Cameron and the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
The first televised debates took place in the last general election in 2010 between then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Collectively watched by an audience of 22 million, they were seen as a success by broadcasters and Nick Clegg’s strong performance is seen as a contributing factor to his party’s successful performance in the elections. These debates including more major parties have the possibility of appealing to a wider range of voters and making the traditional parties require strong performances to hold their bases.
The fact that the debates are happening despite the challenging negotiations may highlight the increasingly significant role they are playing in general election campaigns. There is some belief that Mr Cameron might be able strengthen his performance by being involved in a debate involving all the major parties. Equally, the possibility of a strong performance by Mr Miliband, similar to Mr Clegg in 2010, might potentially see a significant boost for the Labour party. The involvement of parties such as the Greens and UKIP means that both Labour and the Conservatives need to appeal to their support base as both of these parties are seen as more radical.
With polls showing that either Labour or Conservatives could be in the lead, the debates may play an important role in deciding the outcome of the election. The increased support of smaller parties and the likelihood of a hung parliament increases the opportunity that a strong performance might increase their chances of being a coalition partner. The debates are playing an increasingly influential role in the general election and, with it being so close, may go some way to deciding the outcome.
How might the debates improve the general election?