Sal Brinton: Our democracy should not be in the hands of invisible corporate structures

Tonight the Liberal Democrats and SNP lost their court bid for inclusion in the ITV Leaders’ debate tomorrow night.

Sal Brinton was at the Royal Courts of Justice and had this to say afterwards:

The Liberal Democrats’ position in this election and that of our leader is unique: Jo Swinson is the only leader of a national party fighting to stop brexit.

“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn should not be allowed to sidestep debating the issue of Brexit with someone who wants to remain, and ITV should not give them the opportunity to do so.

“That is why this is an incredibly disappointing verdict. Not just for the Liberal Democrats but also for democracy in this country, and for every remainer who deserves to have a voice in this debate.

“It is worrying that the Ofcom guidance allows TV Executives, not the voters, to decide whether the biggest issues of the day are debated openly in the ITV Debate.

“This campaign is undeniably dominated by Brexit, the single biggest issue for our country, perhaps in the last 75 years.

“Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are determined to drag this country down in the name of Brexit.

“This law needs to change. ITV needs to change.

“Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats brought this court case because our politics needs to change too.

“Televised debates between political party leaders should be framed in stronger legislation.

“But more than that, our democracy should not be in the hands of invisible corporate structures, and arrangements for such debates should always be accessible and transparent.

“We will not set our principles aside, we will continue this fight.

“Not just for this General Election, but for our future democracy too.”

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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22 Comments

  • Michael Cole 18th Nov '19 - 8:11pm

    Everyone who favours fairness in politics should be appalled by this decision.

  • it’s a damn disgrace. But maybe Channel 4 and other broadcasters can be persuaded to correct the balance?

  • David Allen 18th Nov '19 - 8:31pm

    Is it possible for us to look at this objectively?

    On the one hand – The media have often been criticised for organising muddled multi-speaker events which give some very minor parties inordinate exposure.

    On the other hand – It’s undeniable that when the media paint it as a two-horse race they can easily be making a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The media seem to be trying to compromise between the extreme options. What they have done in some past elections is to stage both types of event, i.e. a 2-party contest one day, a 4-party or 7-party contest another day. That would be fairer. So yes, I understand why Lib Dems feel hard done by. They have something of a point.

    But – What about the tin ear problem? As an analogy, I’m thinking about Prince Andrew’s tin ear problem. He spent a lot of time saying “Not guilty”, which was his right, but it never occurred to him to add “but I’m sorry about having befriended a paedophile, because the victims also matter”.

    Now of course, the Lib Dems don’t have anything similar to be ashamed of, but they do seem to be showing an equally blatant case of the tin ear.

    That is – The voters want to hear about Lib Dem policies! They don’t want to find that every time someone pokes a mike in front of Swinson’s face and offers her a fifteen-second soundbite, that soundbite amounts to “We wuz robbed!”

  • Well the media have made their bed let them lie in it. When they bleat will someone save us as the Tories enforce free licences for the over 75’s and no money for it and the BBC gets gutted, well you reap what you sow. When the print media go pop one after another, well you reap what you sow. When ITV work out they can’t compete against the multinationals, well you reap what you sow. If you can’t represent more than two failed parties and have no voice for any other views don’t be surprised if you have no friends outside thous you suck up to and they won’t be your friends for long.

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '19 - 9:59pm

    OK so it isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair so get used to it! – as my mother used to say.

    In a free society, if Boris wants to debate with Jeremy, and Jeremy wants to debate with Boris, but neither wants to debate with Joanne, then there’s not a lot you can do about it. And as Lib Dems neither should you even want to do anything about it.

  • I have so much sympathy with frankie’s comment. The BBC have made a conscious series of decisions, from presenters to editorial teams, to help create the mess we are in from Brexit to the licence fee. Likewise as frankie observes many other institutions. What’s hard is that the world we get left with when they get their just desserts is just Fox News and the lying liars of clickbait, because those are still somehow profitable.

  • ITV’s decision to sideline everyone other than the leaders of the Labour and Tory Parties is, without doubt, terrible.

    But I do think there is a tactical error in the way we have pursued our complaint. The antidemocratic stunting effect of the FPTP system, and the crude manipulations that the media adopt as a result, do not only impact the Lib Dems. The other main victims are the Greens and……. the Brexit Party.

    It would’ve been a stronger, more convincing and less self-serving argument if we had said those three parties, and their different messages, all need to be fully aired as part of the public political discussion. We may share nothing else with Farage et al, but they suffer as much as we do as a result of this two-horse-race nonsense.

  • Bless Peter who are you a self confessed none Liberal to tell us what to think. Tis rather sad that the only site that will give you time is Lib Dem Voice. It is obvious no other site will or you wouldn’t spend so much of your idle retirement haunting it. Tis sad beyond belief that all you have is this site full of people you dislike and yet the only audience you have. If I ever get so sad please someone shoot me, after all if I bring so little joy or insight into the world what use am I. Just an net negative when once perhaps I was a positive, although in your case Peter perhaps not.

  • nigel hunter 18th Nov '19 - 11:31pm

    In a democracy voters should be informed of the pros and cons of arguements. Both are Brexiteers. People will only get one viewpoint that is not democracy but a stitch up of one idea,
    ITV BBC who ‘toe the line’ are what the 2 parties want. Both can be the Govnt and lean on the services. When in govnt they can still threaten them. Peter Martin, you are free to state your points on this sight. If you were suddenly stopped from being on it would you complain that your viewpoint is being silenced? Would you accept what you say that that is life tough or would you feel aggrieved ? Do you want a free and open society or one where those who disagree are silenced?

  • Michael Cole 18th Nov '19 - 11:36pm

    Thank you frankie, my thoughts exactly.

    @Peter Martin: You say, “OK so it isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair so get used to it!” Does that mean that we should accept all forms of unfairness and do nothing about them ?

  • Peter Martin 19th Nov '19 - 7:13am

    Those who are claiming the LibDems are the victims of unfairness seem also to be assuming that the unfairness is imposed by the BBC and ITV. We don’t know exactly what goes on behind the scenes. LDV gives a mixed message. On the one hand we read articles saying “What are ITV playing at excluding Jo Swinson?” and on the other “Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are too scared….”

    The second one is probably nearer the mark, but it’s not that they are “too scared”. They’ve just decided for tactical reasons to debate each other and no-one else. Theresa May, if I remember rightly, chose for her own reasons to debate with no-one. That had to be her choice. If Boris and Jeremy wanted Joanne included then I doubt if the ITV or BBC would demur.

    Violet Elizabeth Bott had a similar problem when William and his gang usually tried to exclude her from their activities! Her counter was to “scream and scream until she was sick” ! It might have worked to some extent for the young Ms Bott but it’s not going to do much good for Ms Swinson’s campaign.

  • John Marriott 19th Nov '19 - 8:23am

    “Welcome, folks, to the ‘Winner Takes All’. Tonight we welcome Bozza and Jezza, who are competing for title of ‘British Prime Minister’”

    You know, I bet that there are quite a few people who are hoping for that kind of contest this evening. I reckon I shall watch in the hope that ‘Jezza’ puts one over on ‘Bozza’ or maybe that the later finally implodes. It’s show biz, folks, not politics…..and brought to you by……

    But, to be serious for a moment. I really do agree with President Brinton that there ought to be a non partisan committee like in the USA to decide what form these ‘debates take’ and that all bone fide parties be required to sign up to them. Given that hustings virtually went out with the arrival of black and white television and that most election leaflets, once retrieved from the doormat, probably go straight in the bin, having some kind of shouting match is probably the best way of confirming what many of the public have thought all along, namely that most politicians are a load of t…..s.

    Am I cynical? You bet. That’s why I still intend to go to the Polling Station next month and write ‘None of the above’ on my ballot paper, unless someone, or something, can persuade me otherwise in the meantime.

  • The latest deltapoll puts the parties as follows based on how people voted in the 2016 referendum:
    Among Leavers, Con 68%, Brexit 13%, Lab 11%, LD 3%
    Among Remainers, Lab 47%, Con 25%, LD 18%, Brexit 0%.

    Given the top 2 parties among remainers are going to be represented in the debate, we could argue that the two main strands of Remain thought are already represented: “Don’t care much about this issue anymore.” represented by Labour and “Sigh, I suppose we have to make the best shot we can of leaving now.” represented by the Conservatives. The third strand of remain thought, Brexit denialism, was good for three million votes in the euro elections but it lacks wider appeal, even among people who voted remain in 2016 – and it goes against the preamble to the constitution “We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.”

    I and others have been saying for a while on here now that there is no 48%. The Lib Dems were always the best party because they believed most in personal freedom, respected everyone regardless of background, and they recognised that government needed to be a balance between the interests of service users, taxpayers and public service workers, whereas the other two parties were overly and dogmatically biased towards only one or another of those three things and had “one of us or one of them” mentalities. When this is over, I hope there be a return to what the party was previously about.
    (ex-member)

  • It is sad to hear of this decision by the courts but the judgement is very clear – legally we didn’t even have enough to get to first base – Quite simply, we had no case whatsoever against the ITV.

    This is very disappointing, but what is worse is that our leaders should have realised this before the campaign started.

    As a party that only won 12 seats and got 2.3 million votes last time, arguing we should be in any way considered equal with two parties with 580 Mps and 26.5 million votes between them, always had to rely on the letter of the law and not some sense of the justice of our cause. So the ITV decision was easily predictable and we had to have a clear plan to deal with it.

    Clearly our leaders didn’t have such a plan.

    However, for some reason they decided to support the SNP and try to bypass the Fixed Term Parliaments Act by going for a quick election, presumably in the expectation that we would make significant gains and be able to stop Brexit. Sadly the opinion polls are making this look more and more like yet another pipe dream rather than an achievable objective.

    Jo, you need to turn this election round and do so very quickly, defend what we have and maybe try to win just a few more seats, but any hopes of winning dozens (never mind the dream of hundreds of seats) are gone – indeed they were only ever a mirage.

    Sal our democracy should indeed not be in the hands of invisible corporate structures, and arrangements for such debates should always be accessible and transparent, but to change it we have to take power and not repeatedly sacrifice what power we have (i.e. our MPs) on pipe dreams.

    Ultimately twenty MPs after all this would be a great triumph. Twelve might just be realistic.

  • roger billins 19th Nov '19 - 1:53pm

    i think it was a very bad error to go to court. As a lawyer, i could have predicted the outcome. I agree with David Evans that the leadership has mishandled most things since the European Elections. I won’t comment on the choice of leader but the revoke policy and forcing an election were both monumentally daft and the campaign nationally has seen us mercilessly squeezed by the media. Mind you, apart from Feb 74, the last two weeks of 83, 1997, and 2005, I have been bitterly disappointed by the conduct of our campaigns. However, i am not as pessimistic as David Evans because I dont think the opinion polls tell the whole story. I have never known such an influx of volunteers keen to help and I think there is a huge soft tory vote out there ready for the taking. I think oh Jeremy Corbyn has won back a lot of the vote that went to us in the Euros.
    Still all to play for.

  • chris moore 19th Nov '19 - 2:05pm

    I agree with Roger Billins, re the leadership since the Euros.

    Going for straight Revoke was a mistake. Agreeing to the election was a mistake.

    However, I don’t think “losing” the judicial review matters. Also, i suspect the last couple of polls understate our position.

  • Paul Barker 19th Nov '19 - 3:04pm

    Can we please leave all the “analysis” of our mistakes till after Friday The 13th ?
    In the middle of a Campaign it isnt helpful.

  • Roger Billins 19th Nov '19 - 3:29pm

    Paul Barker. It may be helpful if the powers that be learn from the mistakes and stop making them. That’s what happened in 1983 and the radical change nearly doubled our vote and if it had been made earlier the result would have been very different.

  • David Evans 19th Nov '19 - 3:33pm

    Martin, You are wrong. I would not have criticised the leadership if, as *some* senior Lib Dems judged it, Labour MPs had voted through Brexit, because on balance that was
    a) very unlikely (despite what some Lib Dems in the Westminster bubble thought, and
    b) if they had, Labour would have been finished for so many of its supporters in the South east.

    We needed to play a longer game and let Boris Johnson continue to fail again and again and again.

    Instead we took the lid off Pandora’s Box and given Boris Johnson the opportunity to tell his easy lies once more to the country. He is doing, and it is working, and it is looking extremely likely he will win and we could easily be nowhere, with our one known policy no longer relevant.

    Westminster incompetence, no longer looks to be an exaggeration.

  • John Marriott 19th Nov '19 - 9:04pm

    Just watched Johnson v Corbyn. What an anticlimax! Johnson couldn’t stop rabbiting on about Brexit and a Corbyn couldn’t get his glasses straight. I think that Jo Swinson might be glad she missed it.

  • Largely agree with John Marriott – except that whilst Johnson waffled, patronised and misled, Mr Corbyn actually tried to deal with the issues.

    Thought the presenter was ought of her depth and the production was amateurish

    Turned over to watch Wales and Scotland win. Much more entertaining.

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