One of the simmering stories over these past few weeks has been that of representation in election debates, particularly in the light of the forthcoming general election. This already is an issue when TV/Radio shows to do with politics invite members of different political parties to discuss issues of interest and they need to decide who they are to invite. My Green friends feel aggrieved that their participation is not as it should be, certainly a lot less than the Lib Dems and UKIP, even though they believe they have comparable popular support. While a “neutral” body (Ofcom) adjudicates on such matters, the decision making criteria is questionable. David Cameron has recently created a stir by saying he won’t debate if the Greens aren’t included, with his opponents questioning his motives.
My two penneth worth is that the Green party should have equal representation in such debates as that of Lib Dems and UKIP (and the same goes for SNP in Scotland), but less than Labour and Conservative, who still are overall significantly ahead when it comes to people support. I suspect when it comes to the General Election, most will still want to see debates that will help them decide which party / leader they should vote for to lead the country and currently for the majority that comes down to a choice between Conservative / David Cameron and Labour / Ed Milliband. Depressing as it may appear, given that money talks more than it ought, this seems similar to the American situation, with maybe a third (it has been Lib Dems in the past here) squeezing in. Accordingly, the main parties should have most of the debate time but quality time should also be allocated to all the other minor parties, headed by UKIP and the Greens, although I am less sure on the precise criteria for deciding how much time, and we mustn’t forget the Independents (although this is more an issue when it comes to local politics).
This brings me to two of my pet subjects. Firstly, my longstanding observation is too often there is a woeful lack of content and sound argument when it comes to the debating of issues that matter and too much in the way of sound bites, irrelevancies, inappropriate digs, personal diatribes and trivia. Secondly there has been the dearth of hustings, sadly a sign of the times. Hustings are something I have I have been involved with organising in the past, both for local and national elections, and overall I have found these worth doing. However, I work on the basis of trying to put my efforts into projects that give a return (and for the last two local elections I failed to find takers, ideally a community group, for organising local election hustings). I raise this matter in the hope something will get organised this time, voters will attend and it will address the need for debate; and candidates attending will be asked tough questions.
Because of my community involvement, I get to rub shoulders with politicians from all parties and believe I get on with most of them, yet also believe it is in the public interest to have them stand along with their opponents in elections and be asked difficult questions that concern the very people who they purport to want to represent, so at the very least the electorate have more to go on when deciding who they are to vote for – this applies equally at local ward level, parliamentary constituency level and at national and European level. Of course it has to be seen to be fair to all, so a deal of wisdom and diplomacy is always needed. Whether through televised debates, shows like “Any Questions” and “Question Time”, or ward and constituency based hustings, we need to know what those wanting our vote truly think and can deliver on, concerning the issues of the day, and what sort of people they really are. Having such debates, irrespective of the format, but involving the key players, is surely one way to achieve this. I await developments with interest!