Politics on the podium: an empty chair on a full stage

Image: Brian Herzog

Image: Brian Herzog

A protest against the exclusion of the Green Party in the forthcoming televised general election debates has turned into a chaotic fight between politicians and broadcasters.

It has been announced that the leaders of the Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the United Kingdom Independence Party will appear in the televised election debates that will be broadcast closer to the election. With the Green Party apparently not welcome, the Prime Minister has refused to take part, promising to appear only when the Green Party’s leader is on the podium with him.

Reactions to this have been mixed: some keen supporters of the Conservatives are saying that the Prime Minister just wants to clobber every party leader in one go, whereas others say that he is standing up for equality and inclusion, respecting the popularity of the Greens. Critics of the Prime Minister have more or less shouted “Chicken!”, with the three other appearing leaders sending letters to Downing Street urging the Prime Minister to attend (and get clobbered, presumably).

Approaching the broadcasters, we learn that the decisions were based on which parties were considered to have ‘major’ status and were also likely to affect the result of the general election. Originally there would be a debate between the Conservatives and Labour, a second debate including the Liberal Democrats, and a final third including UKIP. However, it now seems that the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalists) are all welcome to attend a debate or two.

Even this outcome doesn’t seem to be satisfactory for some. George Galloway MP, representing the Respect Party in the House of Commons, has voiced his displeasure at not being invited; the leader of the Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow has also asked if his party will be “guaranteed fair and equal access to the media”. The Monster Raving Loony Party has claimed a right to appear on the TV, being older than the Liberal Democrats! The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party has also asked to be given a platform.

What is clear to me is that the Greens are right in saying something (or, repeating what UKIP said when they had their time in the limelight): generally people are fed up with the age-old system. We are in the middle of an incredibly quiet and bloodless revolution, with the old order being silently and gradually overthrown by the emergence of a new alternative. No longer is it a matter of red or blue, with a dash of yellow every now and then; now we have all manner of political parties with enough influence to affect the outcome of the next election.

Our judgment hangs on how much of a chance we reckon that these new parties will have in influencing politics in Westminster. I expect UKIP to win seats in the Commons, and, as of this week, there is a good chance that the Greens will too. But so what? Will they have the opportunity to make the change they promise to make? Despite it being a tremendous victory for UKIP to have two Conservative defectors being re-elected to Parliament in purple uniform, I recall a comment from a friend at the time: despite the fanfare and publicity, they number two, and their victories came from by-elections – to many politicians, it’s the general election that matters.

We could easily include the leaders of the all the parties I have mentioned on our leaders’ debates, but when all is said and done, it is the policies and the ideologies that matter. It may be fair and equal to have everyone on the podium, but the outcome of the election isn’t fair and equal: someone has to win and someone has to try harder in five years’ time.

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