Image from the petition change.org 'Invite the Greens' petition.

Leader’s Debates: Invite the Greens!

Two days ago the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 announced they have invited UKIP’s Nigel Farage to the televised leader’s debates in the run up to the UK’s 2015 general election. They’ve have not invited Green Party leader Natalie Bennet, nor the leaders of other non-establishment parties.

The TV station’s plan is to have a 4-3-2 set-up where the first round has David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage, the second has Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, and the final round has just Cameron and Miliband. All these debates will take place throughout April, 2015.

As you can imagine, I’m outraged by this proposal.

If UKIP are being included, the Greens have every right to be included as well. You can read a pretty comprehensive list of reasons why this is so with one of my favourite bloggers, Another Angry Voice. However my top arguments in a nutshell are: 

  • While UKIP just won their first MP (in a by-election, with low turn-out, and a candidate that very recently was a Tory) the Greens won their first MP back in the 2010 general election. The Greens also have two MSPs while UKIP have none, and two members of the London Assembly while UKIP have none
  • The Greens out-performed the Lib Dems in the 2014 European election, pushing them into fifth place and winning three MEPs while the Lib Dems lost all but one.
  • The Greens run a council, while UKIP have none
  • In the Vote For Policies blind test, the Greens had the most popular policies
  • The Greens have regularly been polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems at 7%
  • The Greens offer a real alternative to the four neoliberal parties, and they would also offer an element of balance to the inclusion of UKIP, which alone would tilt the whole debate rightwards.

As much as I dislike UKIP, I do actually agree they should be included in the first round of the debates, on the merit of their surge in popularity and their winning the 2014 European election. However I think including them without including the Greens is grossly unfair and biased, for the reasons outlined above. In the interest of political plurality, I advocate a 5-3-2 structure where the Green Party leader Natalie Bennet is also included in the first debate, alongside Farage. I think a huge part of the population is feeling alienated and let down by the three establishment parties (whose memberships have been going down) and people are looking to both UKIP and the Greens (and parties like the SNP) for alternatives. However, the Greens are actually the only party to reject the economic hegemony of neoliberalism (which UKIP adheres to even more fervently than the main three).

Image from the petition linked above, not mine.

Image from the petition linked below. Not my image.

Although the Vote For Policies data is not from a fully representative survey, it does come from over 230,000 people who were choosing between policies on nine key issue areas, without knowing which party each belonged to. The Greens came first, while UKIP came fourth. I think the fact that UKIP did so badly in this kind of test, just shows how much their popularity depends on a whipped-up media frenzy, their “plucky outsider” act and Farage’s “old boy at the pub” persona – rather than their actual policies.

Including them in the TV leader’s debates will present them as a serious contender and major party, while the exclusion of the Greens gives the very misleading impression that they aren’t a serious or popular party. The TV stations need to accept that this kind of coverage makes a big impact to public opinion. The media is powerful. Yes, anyone can go to the various parties websites and read their policies, or take the Vote For Policies quiz, but many many people aren’t politically engaged enough to do this. Many people do get their political news solely from the mainstream media. It is obvious that UKIP wouldn’t have done quite so well in the European election had they not benefited from huge amounts of airtime and press coverage in the run up to the big day. The TV companies like them because they make “good telly” – there’s always plenty of shocking quotes to dig up about them, they say outrageous things, they divide opinion, and Farage is bombastically charismatic, (in a drunken-toad kind of way).

I don’t care if making “good telly” is their only goal most of the time, but when it comes to the pre-election leader’s debates, they really need to grow up and take some responsibility for showing a fair and unbiased debate which respects political plurality. This applies especially to the BBC, which is supposed to have a responsibility for public-service broadcasting, unlike the others which are purely commercial. Actually, Channel 4 despite being a commercial station was originally tasked with the social goal of representing alternative perspectives not covered by the other stations. However, the TV stations upon complaint will probably say they are working within their guidelines, which specify all the “major parties” be included. The regulating body Ofcom don’t count the Greens as a major party, while they do count UKIP. So the bias is not restricted to the TV scheduling, and Ofcom needs to be challenged as well.

If you think this proposal is unfair and want the Greens to be invited to the debate, you can:

Also joining the Green party will of course help as well, if you support them in general. However I hope even people who support another party or none at all will still be moved to sign the above petition, just out of respect for fairness, open democracy and representative, unbiased media.

By the way, David Cameron has said he supports a 5-3-2 structure, and that the details are not settled yet, and may well change before April rolls around. As Caroline Lucas said, “it’s nice to agree with him on something!”

If it’s not set in stone yet, that means we have the next few months to kick up such a fuss that the TV stations are forced to change their minds and issue a 5-3-2 debate structure instead.

We can do this!

 

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