Debating Democracy Short
Why confining ‘national’ debate to parties with MPs in England restricts variety and challenge in political ideas
BBC1 London and BBC2 England are the default settings for our Freesat TV reception in north Carmarthenshire, Wales. To watch BBC1 Wales or BBC2 Wales you have to make an active choice to change channels.
So what? Well, in connection with the proposed pre-election party leader debates, it means that you miss programmes intended for Welsh viewers and instead see transmissions for England, unless you make a deliberate choice not to do so. This gives the parties standing in England an advantage over parties which have candidates only in other countries of the Union.
Let me state my position. I would like all twelve parties with MPs in Westminster to be invited to debate policies. All sorts of problems arise, such as to how much time to allocate to each representative, especially given the short sound-bite nature of political broadcasting, but given that we are a ‘United Kingdom’, parties with MPs representing electors in any part of that Kingdom should have the chance to debate policies with each other, not least because electors are likely to hear policy arguments which they would otherwise be denied.
The debates which the broadcasters want to stage highlight political views which accept the status quo and are not ‘radical’. Often there seems as much difference between sections of the Labour and Conservative parties than between the parties themselves. The LibDems are, under Nick Clegg, more pale blue than orange. UKIP, which has somehow become a media darling, appears to me to be more about opposition – to the European Union and immigration – than about constructive ideas of its own.
Televised debates with only the leaders whose parties are classed by the broadcasters as ‘major’ could well be a step on the road towards a presidential system, vesting powers in individual leaders rather than in Parliament. How would that improve our democracy? Do we really want alternating spells of Conservatives and Labour, like the blunted system in the USA where Republicans and Democrats shuffle in and out of ‘power’.
‘Power’ in this guise is a misnomer. The real power lies elsewhere, and by confining debates to a few voices, that power reinforces itself.
Just for the record, and courtesy of http://www.parliament.uk, the state of the parties in the House of Commons is
- Conservative 303
- Labour 257
- Liberal Democrat 56
- Democratic Unionist 8
- Scottish National Party 6
- Sinn Fein 5
- Plaid Cymru 3
- Social Democratic & Labour Party 3
- United Kingdom Independence Party 2
- Alliance Party 1
- Green Party 1
- Respect Party 1
There are in addition 3 independents and the Speaker.