Is UK’s Cameron shying away from TV debates?

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jan 14, 2015 23:30 IST

Much has changed in Britain since the 2010 general elections, and the political landscape is no longer dominated by two or even three parties — one indication of the change is the intense debate over who gets to feature in television debates before the May polls.

American-style television debates were held in Britain for the first time before the 2010 elections, but now Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of running scared by refusing to participate if the leader of Green Party is not included in the debates.

The 2010 debates were held between leaders of the three main parties: Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Since then, due to the rapid rise of smaller parties such as UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Green Party, there are demands that they too be included in the debates.

In a rare coming together, leaders of three parties – Ed Miliband (Labour), Nick Clegg (Liberation Democrats) and Nigel Farage (UKIP) – on Tuesday wrote to Cameron, asking him to participate in the television debates or face the embarrassment of an empty chair.

They wrote in separate but identical letters: “It would be unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader were to deny the public the opportunity to see their leaders debate in public.

“Therefore, if you are unwilling to reconsider, the three party leaders will ask the broadcasters to press ahead with the debates and provide an empty podium should you have a last minute change of heart.”

Besides UKIP and Green Party, there are demands of leaders of other smaller parties be given equal importance, particularly those of the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the parties in Northern Ireland. However, Cameron insisted that he was not running scared. He insisted that, “We’ve got to have a proper set of rules and it seems to me that if people want one minor party, UKIP, to be involved, you can’t exclude another minor party - the Greens - and so I made I think a perfectly reasonable point which is that if you’re going to have one, you better have the other.”

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