We asked Election Debate experts for some brief observations about the 76-point plan for UK leader debates, agreed by parties and producers earlier this week. Read the 76-point programme format here.
This is a ridiculous format which tries badly to import a presidential style debate into a parliamentary system. Two main objections, the Scots, Welsh and Irish parties are excluded and the audience aren’t allowed to clap or heckle. God help them if they hold one of these in Glasgow.
These debates are an important development that will increase public interest in the election at a time when turnout has been steadily decreasing for several years. As this is a UK general election, it is reasonable to include only the three main UK party leaders, providing smaller UK parties and the various nationalist parties are given sufficient airtime to comment afterwards.
At last the British people can watch wide-ranging debates between potential Prime Ministers. Traditional political interviews are journalist v. politician, with a heavy subtext that politicians are all the same. The format of these new debates will allow the leaders to draw distinctions between their parties, which will be crucial in the closest election for twenty years.
It is reasonable to limit the debates to three parties as the objective of some smaller parties may be to win headlines not votes. However consideration should be given to holding separate debates for the smaller parties as happens in Ireland. Given the presidential debate format for a parliamentary election it will be important to keep the emphasis on party policy not personality.
It is a sad day indeed when the British leadership chooses to saddle itself with the debate format that plagues the American electoral process. The “free-flowing” debate will surely slip into the reiteration of their respective all too familiar talking points. Clash must be the goal of any debate.
The decision to exclude minor parties is undermined by identity of the decision makers: the major parties. Thumbs up for audience questioning and limited media questioning. Thumbs down for no direct questioning by leaders and one minute responses (which means assertions instead of arguments and evidence).