ITV debate is an insult to democracy

In a recent announcement, Conservative leader Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer have agreed to participate in a head-to-head televised debate on ITV. While it’s always good to be able to get that prime-time real estate during an election campaign, that reaches a wider audience and encourages healthy exercise in democratic engagement, the lack of mention of third-party participation from such a debate is not just an oversight; it is a deliberate slight against democratic diversity and civic participation.

It’s like organizing a dance-off and only inviting two dancers – talk about a political two-step with no room for a political foxtrot!

Admittedly, if we are all being cynical here, this criticism I am levying could easily be dismissed as a case of sour grapes from us Liberal Democrats. Our party, under the leadership of Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg, once commanded an impressive 20-25% in the polls, with projections of over 100 seats in the period between the 2005 and 2010 General Elections. Those were our golden years, a time of us being potential kingmakers were not too far from realistic plausibility. Our coalition with the Conservatives vindicated our relevance. However, since 2015, we have struggled to rise above a 12% vote share and have seen modest returns in terms of seats.

With this apparent decline (whilst we are making inroads) it can be quite easy to flaunt this off as being petty but if we can just dismiss our current stance from where we we’re in 2005 and 2010 it ignores the deeper issues at play. The political landscape today has become much more diverse and we live in a time of strong anti-Toryism with lukewarm feelings towards Labour. Recent opinion polls, while they still put us in single digits, due to our more efficient campaigning which has seen us grown from 8 MPs to 15 MPs since this parliament, add the various MRP polling which suggests a potential strong resurgence (varying between 30 to 60 odd seats), we could potentially be tipped as posing a challenge to the Tories as official opposition. This potential reflects a broader anti-Tory sentiment that benefits not just us, but also parties like Reform UK, gobbling the Tory hard-right base, and the Green Party, which is poised to increase its vote share and potentially gain extra seats.

While I am certain of a Labour victory and a very handsome one if polls are to be believed, we are living in the world of the anti-Tory politics with many other parties gaining the fruits of the Tories self-imposed destruction. Reform UK are averaging just ahead of us and looking certain to be a concentrated and solid voter base than from its mother party UKIP. The Greens as well are also set certain to potentially gain an extra seat and are averaging 5-7% vote share on our rotten system.

A healthy democracy should not only endure but encourage the representation of minor parties. The current system, characterized by backroom dealings and dominated by powerful lobbies, marginalizes smaller parties and limits political choice for the electorate. This not only undermines the principles of a pluralistic society but also disenfranchises voters whose views do not align neatly with the two major parties. It all ends up sounding Orwellian where it becomes a case of “In a Democracy we are all equal, but some are more equal than others”. It’s as if our political landscape took a page straight out of Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” where we’re told we’re all equal, but when it comes to the political barnyard, some animals seem to have far more sway than others.

And if you ask me, it’s time to make sure all the farmyard critters have their say, not just the pigs and the horses!

To rectify this, we should empower the Electoral Commission to facilitate fairer debates. Giving the EC more “teeth” and legality could help impose rules on the number of debates is standard, similar to America’s unofficial approach. Crucially, one of these debates should include minor parties. This approach would provide a platform for a broader range of ideas and policies, allowing voters to make more informed choices. Through cross-party support, mechanism could be put in place to help in deciding a benchmark on when a minor party could qualify.

In conclusion, the exclusion of third-party candidates from televised debates is detrimental to democracy. By ensuring that minor parties are represented in at least one debate, we can foster a more inclusive and vibrant democratic process.

* Andrew Chandler is a former Labour member turned Liberal Democrat Member in Stoke-on-Trent

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16 Comments

  • John Marriott 30th May '24 - 10:14am

    Much as it rancours, in the eyes of our largely politically illiterate electorate it’s the Keir and Rishi Show, a contest between two parties, almost a presidential campaign, certainly as far as the latter ‘candidate’ is concerned as he ploughs a lonely furrow from one photo opportunity to another, with not much to choose between them ideologically. Why? Because, deep down most electors are conservative with a reluctance to consider a real alternative. When they place their X on the ballot paper, I would wager that many, indeed possibly a majority, look first at the party label and many have absolutely no real interest in the actual candidate. Naive that I am, I always thought that we voted in a General Election for someone to represent us in Parliament. Our politics should be multi coloured;, which any form of PR would reflect. Unfortunately FPTP generally reduces it black and white. No wonder Roger Daltrey was forced to sing; “Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss”.

    I wonder if Brenda of Bristol is still around to pass judgement on this latest parade of hopefuls performing for the camera. Someone once welcomed Boris Johnson in a Vox Pop, “because he makes politics fun”. Heaven help us if that’s why people voted for him back in 2019! Yes, I am extremely cynical and this will probably be my last contribution to Lib Dem Voice for the time being at least.

  • Peter Martin 30th May '24 - 10:20am

    I expect that Rishi Sunak would veto the idea of the Lib Dems being included because it would be then be a 2 vs 1 debate. Lib Dems don’t have anything critical to say about Keir Starmer whereas they do concerning Rishi Sunak.

    And yet there is plenty to say about Starmer on the question of his integrity. His track record on promises and pledges needs to be challenged by everyone- not just the Tories.

    I don’t believe we can take anything he says at face value. Until recently he tried to pretend that the investigation into Diane Abbott was a ‘work-in-progress’ of the Labour party’s NEC and therefore out of his hands. It has now emerged, thanks to the investigative journalism of Victoria Derbyshire and the BBC Newsnight team that he was lying.

    The focus of the Labour Party is now to find out who leaked the information rather than to apologise for what has actually happened.

    This should be at least of some slight concern to Lib Dems.

  • @PeterMartin. I suspect that the majority of LibDem members and voters want more than anything to see the back of this dreadful Tory Government. To that end tactical voting to defeat the Tories in every seat possible is the way forward and a tacit non aggression pact with Labour a useful tactic. There will be 5 years to criticise Labour in government. Of course it would be nice to gain seats at Labour’s expense and reduce their likely majority, but it ain’t going to happen except maybe in a couple of seats.
    Of course there are idiots in both our parties who would rather see the Tories win in their seat if they can’t win and who won’t go and campaign in a winnable seat, but that is how it is for tribal politics.
    By holding one’s nose and voting tactically along with vote twinning it might be possible to reduce the Tories to double figures or even to 3rd party status. That’s surely a prize worth fighting for. Of course, Reform will take away Tory votes if they don’t chicken out like they did in 2019 and in quite a number of seats that may lose the Tories the seat, not to reform, but to whoever was in 2nd place in 2019.
    Let’s destroy the Tory Party at this election and then turn our fire on the Labour Party

  • Andy Chandler 30th May '24 - 12:48pm

    Hi the author here. I pretty much agree with @Mick Taylor. Usually for third parties we traditionally attack the governing party in elections and I think this so much more warranted with this dreadful government. I think people are anxious of the Tories clinging on, also their is a strong anti tory voter base now. We need to prioritise unseating them. We will have 5 years to build and hold Labour accountable when the government colours change. And I’m pretty sure a lot of how the Labour leadership manages things will begin to unravel once in office. Yes, it’s depressing we can’t challenge them more but that’s due to our flawed electoral system. We will have our moments if given the opportunity we come back as a strong third party force or even take official opposition crown.
    I do worry from my observations, particularly young LibDems (I had to give that badge away when I turned 30) are just as anti-Labour and as Tory which is fine but tactically they are pushing on social media targeting Labour and like Martin said not prioritising campaigns where we can win at the expense of the Tories but targeting Labour at the expense of ourselves. It is that tribalism. We will have our moment but right now we do need to see the Tories destroyed if we are going to build a base to target Labour.

  • Davey needs to stop these ridiculous. The photos make him look” not serious”.

  • Big Tall Tim 30th May '24 - 1:39pm

    You’re wrong Russell. He’s getting coverage, which otherwise we wouldn’t. It’s reminding voters it’s more than the Rishi/Keir presidential contest.

  • Robin Stafford 30th May '24 - 3:27pm

    I’m with Russell. It might get coverage but so do Count Binface and Monster Raving Looney…
    It certainly does not make us look like a serious party who deserve a place at the debating table.

  • David Blake 30th May '24 - 5:21pm

    I agree with Russell and Robin. The reports on these stunts have been purely on the stunt itself and hardly anything to do with the issue behind it.

  • Anthony Acton 30th May '24 - 5:50pm

    One way or another Ed is getting us a fair bit of airtime. Every time people hear the words Liberal Democrats they are reminded of our existence – which doesn’t happen between elections unless there’s a by election triumph. On the local tv news Ed’s visit to South Cotswolds was highlighted – and then the reporter stopped people in the street and all were voting LIb Dem saying they wanted a change or that it was between the Tories and the LIb Dems in that constituency. Pure gold for our campaign there.

  • Yeovil Yokel 30th May '24 - 9:53pm

    There may be method behind Ed’s madness: once the party has diverted some of the media attention lavished on the two big conservative parties towards itself, it can then start to talk more seriously about its policy agenda – at least, I hope so.

  • All the reports of the stunts in the most important media have mentioned the point of them.

    Please consult Nonconformistradical’s compilation of reports from the big TV stations and newspapers in a previous thread.

    Ed’s taking a calculated risk.

    It’s certainly a change from our previous several miserable and “stodgy” campaigns: 2015, 2017 and 2019.

    And in reality, we are getting coverage on our policies too. So it’s not all stunts.

  • Andy Chandler 31st May '24 - 1:02pm

    Hi, Andy the author here. I agree with @Chris Moore that he is using these stunts to discuss policy. It’s not for the lack of trying its just there is only so much people can squeeze in a media coverage and short social media coverage. Policies are being discussed and that first one he discussed about fining polluters, environmental people on boards and mutalisation of the water companies. The stunts are giving us that air time. Granted, the way the media are just covering the stunts and they choosing to ignore the policies is again akin to the two party bias and the fact the media will only have so much time to report a news. But it’s at least getting people talking and I’ve seen people actually ask me or looked at the website what our policies based on the media stunts. It’s a risk but again agreeing with Chris Moore that it’s certainly less stale, miserable than the last campaigns.

  • Nigel Quinton 2nd Jun '24 - 12:36pm

    totally agree with Mick Taylor and Chris Moore. Although normally pretty critical of the messaging from HQ I am really impressed with the campaign so far. Good quality literature (in target seats) mirroring strong messaging on NHS, quick off the mark, good explainers from Mike Dixon, and a leader who seems determined to enjoy rather than endure the campaign. It may seem tacky to some, but those antics are getting him airtime which otherwise we wouldn’t get.

  • There was a separate Leader’s Debate in Scotland on STV last night, and BBC Scotland will be doing one too:

    https://player.stv.tv/summary/stv-leaders-debate

    On the main leaders’ debate, to me it seems like the perfect time to get out and knock on doors!

  • Andy Chandler 6th Jun '24 - 9:19pm

    @Russell
    This has nothing to do with the article so can you keep on topic please!

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