Party leaders at the general election debates in 2010
The general election means televised debates. And “televised debates” – in this context, at least – mean the leaders of the UK’s Big Three interrupting each other on camera while people tweet about their ties. Next year, however, everything’s set to change: a fourth player will be joining the gauntlet.
This announcement – the UK’s major broadcasters proposing that Nigel Farage join next year’s leader debates – has had a mixed reception. One vocal critic is the Green Party, who argue that if UKIP are to be invited on, then so should they. And they have a point. Why shouldn’t they? And why, for that matter, shouldn’t other British political parties? What about the SNP? Why aren’t we allowed to hear what they have to say for themselves? And The Common Good party, who just "want to make the world a better place" – do they not have a right to be heard?
I thought I’d get in touch with a few small British political parties to see if they’re as annoyed as the Greens that they haven’t been invited onto the telly.
NATIONAL HEALTH ACTION PARTY
Giselle Green, National Health Action Party communications director, campaigning with comedian Rufus Hound
VICE: Hi, Giselle. What are your thoughts on the BBC’s televised debates leading up to the next May election?
Giselle Green: This discussion around the debates throws up the vital issue of the right to be heard in our political system, and how important but difficult it is to allow the voters to get a clear picture of their choices in the election. It's crucial that voters should see what all parties have to offer, and broadcasters shouldn’t be allowed pre-judge the election result by ruling out certain contenders. Yes, stick with a head-to-head between the only two possible Prime Ministers, but open up the other debates to a wider field.
Would you consider your party as a contender?
Obviously the National Health Action Party isn't expecting to be the party of government, but there's a chance it could be a party in government. If even just two or three NHA candidates were elected as MPs, they could exert influence and potentially form part of a coalition. I think the broadcasters should consider different formats for the debates, and one suggestion is that they could slice the debates thematically. That way, at least the voters would actually get sensible, informed debate in a particular policy area, rather than the clichés and the platitudes they get when it’s just three or four party leaders talking in broad terms.
The NHS is consistently among the top two or three most important issues for voters, so there's a strong case for having a debate dedicated to the NHS, and obviously the National Health Action Party would want to be included in that.
That makes sense. But as it stands, the current debate format has been programmed to exclude a lot of parties. There are only four parties who have been asked to be involved. Should UKIP be one of those parties?
The problem we face is that there are no agreed, consistent and fair rules for the debates. What should the criteria be? Current poll rating? Past electoral performance? Past performance based on vote share or based on seats won? Do you take into account general elections, local elections and Euro elections? Some may argue that voters sadly don't take Euro elections that seriously, so the fact that UKIP did so well shouldn't be used as justification for their inclusion. It’s a very confused picture, really. We need a better formula.
Under the current proposals, the Greens are getting a raw deal. They have the same number of MPs as UKIP, and their poll standing is on par with the Liberal Democrats. So why are they excluded? The fact that David Cameron appears to be citing the unfairness of excluding them shouldn't detract from the genuine claim they've got. He'll say anything to scupper the debates, as he's the one with most to lose.
Anything you want to say to the general public?
That we're calling for a televised debate on the NHS, as it's among the top issues for voters. As the party which is focused on the NHS and health, National Health Action would stake a claim to be part of that debate.
THE COMMON GOOD PARTY
Dick Rodgers (right), co-founder of The Common Good Party
What are your views on the controversy over these televised debates?
Dick Rodgers: I’d like to be involved, but I'd imagine they wouldn’t want me because we haven’t got any MPs.
Do you think UKIP should be involved, even though the Green Party and the SNP haven’t been?
I don’t like UKIP. I think they appeal to people’s fears, but I don’t think their answer is the correct one. UKIP are involved, and as the Green Party have an MP, they ought to be involved too. But then it’s difficult to know where to draw the line because of Plaid Cymru and the SNP and so on, who… well, I think they both have more than one MP.
Do you think your party should be involved?
There’s talk of YouTube and newspapers being involved, and that’s a good thing. I’m in favour of political debate.
Right, but you do you think that your party should be involved?
I do. It is involved.
In the televised debate with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband?
Yeah. It should be. And we should have more serious television.
Do you think there are enough people out there who want to listen to what you have to say?
There should be.
What's the general message you want to give out to the general public about your party?
We want Britain to be an influence for good in the world. Making the world a better place will be a really good thing for our country. It’s different from what other parties say, because other parties figure out what people want and try to provide it, but people don’t really know what they want. Britain really needs a vision, and we need to make the world better. Having a purpose that we share together would be a really good influence in our country – it would bring us together with mutual respect and affection and healing.
THE WESSEX REGIONALIST PARTY
Colin Bex, leader of the Wessex Regionalist Party, with Official Monster Raving Loony Party leader Howling "Laud" Hope (Photo via)
VICE: Hi David. So what’s the Wessex Regionalist Party all about?
General Secretary David Robins: What we're arguing is devolution for Wessex, which would involve an elected regional assembly with at least the powers that the Welsh assembly have, and preferably those that the Scottish Parliament has. It would mean that decisions that are currently made in London by people who don’t understand what the issues are in our part of the world would be made by people who live in the region. Things like higher education, the strategies for the health service, and rail transport.
Cool. Can you tell me your thoughts about the recent conflict over the televised leaders debates?
I think it’s very much biased towards the large UK-wide parties and doesn’t really open up new possibilities.
Do you think UKIP should be included?
If UKIP are included then there are other parties that ought to be included as well, such as the Greens and the Nationalists.
Do you think your party should be part of the debate?
Not necessarily the televised debate, but I think the media is generally becoming more open to a different range of possibilities. The old two party, or even three party, system is cracking up, and we may well end up at the next election with something of a rainbow parliament. I think the media need to adjust to and take an interest in us as well as the more established parties.
Even though your party isn’t as popular as the ones that have been selected for the televised debate?
Well, one of the principles of the election is that everyone is equal on the ballot paper. Therefore, if you’re standing you should have an equal opportunity to put forward your point of view. Just because it’s a new point of view, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be heard.
Sacha Ismail (left), from Workers Liberty, with peace activist and ex-Knesset member Uri Avnery (Screen grab via)
Hey Sacha, tell us a bit about your party and what it stands for.
Sacha Ismail: We’re socialists and we stand for the idea of core struggle. Society is divided into classes and, let’s put it this way, it’s not a coincidence that the Sunday Times rich list has never had a better year than now, when real wages are falling. And despite the economy growing again, public services are being decimated and the NHS is being pulled apart. We’re arguing for a society where things aren’t divided into classes and there isn’t a rich elite ruining it for everyone else.
What do you think about the fact that the televised debates have only chosen four parties?
I’d be in favour of including smaller parties. But for me it’s not so much about the televised debates, as about the fact that the media is very dominated by a thin layer of very rich people and, as a result of that, it’s a very limited political debate. In general, newspapers belong to the rich. We have a free press, which is free in the sense that there isn’t direct state censorship, which is a good thing. But it’s not a free press in the sense of being genuinely diverse and democratic, and that’s because of who owns it.
Do UKIP have a right to be included?
I’d be in favour of the Greens and, I guess, the SNP as well. I think UKIP are scumbags. I’m not going to campaign for their right to anything, but equally I wouldn’t exclude them because unfortunately they do seem to have a level of support. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it until you asked.
What about your party?
There are a lot of very small political parties, but if someone offered us the chance to come and take part in the debate we’d grab the opportunity with both hands.
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