The 7-7-2 debate format is just inviting a court challenge

The 7-7-2 debate format is just inviting a court challenge

The “worm” from the 2nd 2010 debate

Maybe judges killing them off is what the broadcasters really want

It was so easy last time: three major GB parties and no other vaguely serious contender. With the SNP messing up their legal challenge, the invites to send more-or-less wrote themselves. As is already clear from the saga so far, it’s a very different situation this year.

What’s striking to me about the latest proposals is not so much the unwieldy scale of seven parties proposed for two of the debates but the invite to Plaid. You can see how it’s happened. On one level, it follows logically that if the SNP are invited then their Welsh counterparts should be too. Except that while Plaid might be the SNP’s approximate ideological counterparts, they’re far from their psephological ones.

The case for the inclusion of the SNP is that they might have a significant role in determining who ends up in Downing Street after May given the number of MPs they may well then hold, going by current polling and by actual elections in Scotland since at least 2007 (with the sole, if notable, exception of the 2010 vote). There’s certainly no case based on the number of candidates stood, nor really on the number of votes cast. By contrast, there is a very strong case for UKIP and a much weaker one for the Greens based on their respective national presence in candidates and their performance in real or virtual votes.

Plaid, however, is a different kettle of fish. Unlike the SNP, they have experienced no upsurge in support, finishing fourth in last year’s Euro-election and only just holding on to their seat. With only 3 MPs at present and no realistic prospect of significant gains, their invitation rests on a very tenuous basis.

And therein lies the problem: if you ignore the published major/minor party lists, where do you then draw the line, and on what basis? If Plaid gets an invite with three MPs and 165k votes in 2010, why not the DUP who returned as many votes and more than double the number of MPs? But if the DUP get an invite, surely Sinn Fein has to have one too, both for balance and because they won (slightly) more votes than their unionist opponents. It may be that because Northern Irish politics is so divorced from that of Britain that they will let that point pass but it’s still illogical and iniquitous.

On the other hand, relegating the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dems into the also-ran division makes the Yellows the biggest losers in these proposals and consequently may invite a challenge from that direction. Loading the stage with five left-of-centre candidates and four other non-Blue/Red leaders dilutes greatly the Lib Dem distinctiveness in a format where it was already going to be hard to both take credit for government achievements while distancing themselves from the Conservatives. UKIP too have reason to feel aggrieved that having forced open the door, three others have rushed through.

I can’t help but wonder whether the reason that there are so many angles of attack against the format is because the broadcasters don’t really want it but that they do want an authoritative and external decision ruling out the idea, enabling them to return to something more televisually appealing without taking any of the blame for the exclusions.

David Herdson

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