Corporeal looks at the BBC’s Clacton decision
One of the unresolved questions surrounding the next general election is how the media will treat UKIP, will they be pushed into the background as coverage hones in on the Lib Dems, (and especially) Labour, and the Conservatives or will they get brought into the mainstream debate and get a share of the precious oxygen of publicity. Most interesting, and probably most symbolic of all is whether they will get a look in (or how much of one) at the leader debates.
I’ve written before in a mix of fascinating and tedious detail about the rules governing the television coverage of political parties, and especially the criteria that cover them (and I’d semi-humbly suggest it’s worth a re-read, at least so you know where the goalposts are, or at least were). The central point is which parties get ‘major party’ status. Parties within this group (and it’s a flexible one that varies between elections and location, in recent years UKIP being a major party only in the Euros and the Nationalists gaining major status in their respective homelands) are guaranteed broadly similar levels of coverage during the election campaign.
This (as fans of reading comprehension may have guessed) doesn’t mean identical levels (the Lib Dems have recently had lower level of election broadcasts etc) but generally guarantees at least a seat at the table, or in terms of the debates (which draw slightly more interest than relative number of election broadcasts) a podium on the stage. It is a possibility that the debates will go into a more complex format with varying participants, but it’s hard to imagine them taking place without all the leaders of the major parties being present for at least a significant part of the debates.
As an update to that, we have the BBC’s editorial guidelines for Clacton out, the highlight (from a party perspective) of which was:
“The available evidence of electoral support in the constituency, together with other relevant factors outlined in the guidelines, indicates that: candidates representing the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP can expect to receive similar levels of coverage. Other parties who stood in Clacton in 2010, or who have received support in subsequent elections (and who announce candidates) should receive some proportionate coverage. “
Obviously Clacton is a special case in terms of a defecting MP for Carswell, but it’s certainly a positive sign in their hopes for better coverage and ultimately being a part of the TV debates (would it be Carswell or Farage showing up), particularly if they win as favourites. Beyond the debates a more consistent presence in the day to day broadcast media campaign coverage would be a significant benefit.
The biggest winners in that advice may actually be the Liberal Democrats. Given that they scored 12.9% at the 2010 General Election in Clacton (and been in low single figures in constituency polls published so far), that they’ve retained major party status for media coverage wasn’t a certainty and is a positive sign for the future since it strongly point towards them also keeping it for next year’s General Election campaign. That might be more important to them than the final result in Clacton.