Don’t blame David Cameron if the televised leaders’ debates don’t happen

by Stephen Tall on January 14, 2015

Let’s take it as read that the leaders of the Conservatives and Labour have to be present for the televised debates — after all, it is one of those two parties which will supply the next Prime Minister and will form (the major part of) the next government.

It follows that the leader of the Lib Dems is included in the televised debates — after all, they have a record in government to defend this time round and it’s not fair for Labour and the Conservatives to be free to attack it in his absence.

It follows then that the leader of Ukip is included in the televised debates — after all, they beat both the Conservatives and Labour in the most recent national election, and have consistently out-polled the Lib Dems for much of the past year.

It follows then that the leader of the Greens is included in the televised debates — after all, they (not Ukip) have won a seat at a general election, and some polls show them ahead of the Lib Dems.

It follows then that the leader of the SNP is included in the televised debates — after all, they have more MPs than Ukip and the Greens combined and could plausibly end up a larger party than the Lib Dems.

It follows then that the leader of the DUP  is included in the televised debates — after all, it is currently the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons.

It follows then that the leader of Plaid Cymru is included in the televised debates — after all, if major parties from Scotland and Northern Ireland are represented, you cannot exclude Wales.

That makes eight leaders who should be included in any televised debate (even if you exclude the leader of Respect because George Galloway).

Inviting Nick Clegg to all three debates in 2010 established a precedent for including a party leader who wouldn’t become Prime Minister. It set up the domino-effect we see above, which makes it logically impossible to draw a line including one party leader and excluding another.

David Cameron doesn’t want the televised debates to happen: the risk of taking part is greater than the likely reward. But for the media to claim he’s the only obstacle is rubbish. Party politics is now more complicated, fragmented. Until the broadcasters come up with a solution that recognises that reality, party leaders looking to dodge a debate have a ready-made excuse.