Fix the date for Televised Leaders’ Debate - 10 Feb, 2005
A matter of public interest,
not a private prime ministerial decision
In a statement issued today at a
seminar held in Parliament entitled Televised Leaders' Debates : Who Should
Decide? Lord Holme, Chairman of the independent Hansard Society, will call
for the possibility of a TV Debate between the party
leaders at the election to be treated as a matter of the public interest,
rather than as a private decision by the Prime Minister, and suggested the
broadcasters, acting together, should fix dates and issue invitations to
Lord Holme commented:
"It is a democratically dubious
proposition that the decision whether to fall in line with other democracies
and have a TV Debate during the election between the
Party Leaders is somehow at the private decision of the incumbent Prime
"That cannot be right. First of
all most incumbents, except in very exceptional circumstances, will avoid this
sort of competition if they can since they are reluctant to accept the implied
parity with their challengers.
"Second, on grounds of principle,
it amounts to one of the players unilaterally deciding the rules of the game.
"What makes the present situation
even less acceptable is that although Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy have said they
would welcome a debate, no-one has heard directly from the Prime Minister. It
has been left to nudges and winks, hints and briefings, from his aides and
campaign managers to imply that Mr Blair doesn't want one but we haven't heard
from the Prime Minister himself.
"Yet the UK, like most
mature democracies, is now ready for a TV Leaders'
Debate. The broadcasters are more than willing to cooperate on the
arrangements. Leaders' debates are held in Scotland, for instance, and
throughout the election Ministers, from the Chancellor downwards, will be
debating directly with their Shadow opposite numbers. The Bush/Kerry debates in
the US Election are fresh in peoples' minds.
"Most importantly, the voting
public have demonstrated in repeated opinion polls that they want such a debate
which allows them to compare the personalities and policies of the contenders
directly in their own homes.
"So why don't we get on with it?
The broadcasters, as an important demonstration of their public service
obligations, should make the decision to go ahead and, as soon as the election
is called, fix the dates. An independent third-party body such as the Hansard
Society, or even more desirably the Electoral Commission, could work out the ground
rules so that they were fair to the participants and informative to the public.
Then it would be up to each party leader to accept or refuse. If the Prime
Minister's reported position is true and he does not want to take part, he
would then be obliged to say why publicly.
"The broadcasters would then have
the option of cancelling the event for obvious and well-understood reasons; or
going ahead with an empty chair.
"Either way would be preferable
to the present ‘hidden veto'."
Further information: Virginia
Gibbons on 020 7395 4010 or 07812 765 552
- The Hansard Society is an independent
educational charity which has 60 years' experience promoting effective
parliamentary democracy and strengthening the links between parliament and