Adam Boulton writes… Lib Dems should back a Leaders’ Debate

Two weeks ago Sky News’s political editor Adam Boulton launched a campaign to to get the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties to take part in a televised debate at the general election. Lib Dem Voice asked Adam to pitch his arguments in favour to our readers, and he gamely said yes…

Liberal Democrats know what it feels like. You’ve got a brilliant idea, it’s so obvious it just has to be right. But your competitors make patronising noises about your initiative, while trying to work how they can nick it for themselves.

That’s how I feel about Leaders’ Debates at the next General Election. Of course they should happen. Television is still the major mass medium of communication at a time when more and more people feel alienated from politicians – how could our political leaders possibly deny the public the chance to compare them face to face at election time?

And yet 49 years after the Kennedy-Nixon TV duel, Britain has still not caught up with what most countries around the world consider to be a natural part of any election: live debates. I’ve been contributing to attempts to stage debates for a quarter of a century. In the past they’ve always got bogged down as broadcasters and rival TV channels played off against each other – which often meant deliberately topedoing a debate plan if it wasn’t to your selfish advantage.

That’s why Sky News decided to cut the foreplay this election, and take advantage of reforms in the law, to declare that we will stage a debate at the next election. Nick Clegg has agreed to take part, so has David Cameron, Gordon Brown is thinking about it, and well over 10,000 people have signed our online petition. Following the Sky News initiative, the Economist says “Britain looks increasingly likely to hold its first televised debates among prime ministerial caindidates” and agrees it will be “good for the country”.

We are being as open as possible with the debate – it will be open to other channels including BBC and ITV to broadcast live and we will discuss the format with them. If there are several debates as a result of our challenge, the broadcasters will work together. We are consulting with the independent electoral organisations about our plans and are getting thumbs up.

Sky News has pledged to stage election debates in Scotland and Wales. We believe that the Leaders can set an example from the top, encouraging candidate debates in constituencies across the UK.

But only three people can possibly be Prime Minister after the next election. The choice will be made from the leaders of the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Parties – our main Britain-wide political movements.

The Leaders’ Debate will be both liberal and democratic, I hope Liberal Democrats will back our campaign.

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This entry was posted in General Election, Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • Stanley Theed 16th Sep '09 - 10:04pm

    If the polls comtinue to look so bad for Labour when the electioin draws nigh Gordon could be persuaded to take part on the grounds he has nothing to lose. I do not see it happening otherwise. Much might depend on the format.. Be assured Adam we would welcome a Leaders’ Debate which includes Nick Clegg.

  • Duncan Borrowman 17th Sep '09 - 12:20am

    You are totally right Adam, though if I recall correctly you were a bit patronising about the Alliance 25 years ago, at least in private…

  • Only if it’s proper debate and not a US style spin obesssed bore.

  • johninpenarth 17th Sep '09 - 9:36pm

    Why should sky expect to host it?

  • Duncan Borrowman 18th Sep '09 - 1:25pm

    I am no great fan of the Murdoch empire, but I would think that Sky/Adam have every right to say they want to do it if it is them pushing for it and them going out on a limb saying that they will broadcast it, even if a tub of lard takes the place of Gordon Brown.

2 Trackbacks

  • […] BBC reports that Gordon Brown will accept the proposals, forcibly proposed by Sky’s Adam Boulton, for a leaders’ debate… but with only partial involvement for Nick Clegg: Months ago, […]

  • By The leaders’ debate – is it really now game on? on Fri 2nd October 2009 at 6:42 pm.

    […] the ante on a leaders’ debate, with Adam Boulton launching a full-throated campaign – including writing for LDV – for Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown and David Cameron to debate each other in the lead-up to […]

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