Thursday, 22 April 2010

Free and unfair elections

So, the BBC Trust has rejected the SNP/Plaid Cymru appeal against their exclusion from the leaders' debates. The SNP are apparently unable or unwilling to spend the cash a court case would require, so I guess that's the end of the road. Money 1 - 0 Democracy. Much will be said on this subject, but I would like to register the following points:
  1. The three parties included do not field candidates throughout the UK. There are no Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem candidates in Northern Ireland.
  2. The Trust remarks that there are only "three individuals who could realistically aspire to be Prime Minister of the UK" . Let me be the first to congratulate Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron on retaining their seats. I didn't realise they had already been re-elected in their constituencies. Or does anyone think any of them would still be Prime Minister if they were no longer MPs (actually I wouldn't put it past Brown given his penchant for unelected ministers)?
  3. Much is made of past electoral support in the Trust's ruling, although there are a few Freudian slips where they simply refer to the electoral support of the three main parties. And this gets to the heart of the matter - surely the whole point of the election is to determine the electoral support of the parties! Who are the BBC or BBC Trust to determine this in advance? Are they denying the possibility of substantial changes in the levels of support for different parties? A quick glance at the history books should disabuse them of that notion.
  4. The Trust maintains that impartiality is preserved by sufficient "signposting" during the debates, when Westminster-reserved matters are being discussed, as well as by additional debates where SNP/Plaid Cymru can take part. Now, without wishing to insult the viewers, it is inevitable that they will be confused at times during the debates as to which bits are UK-wide and which are Scotland/Wales-specific. Viewers will pop out to make tea and come back halfway through an answer, Auntie Elspeth will phone up for a chat, the dog will start barking, and viewers will just simply forget the signposts. Confusion is absolutely inevitable and the viewers' (mis-)perceptions of the debates absolutely will have an effect on voting intentions (anyone heard of Clegg-mania?). Regarding the additional Scotland/Wales-specific debates, it's stretching reality beyond breaking point to suggest that they will enjoy the same media profile as the UK debates. It's manifest nonsense as the media coverage of the last week demonstrates.
I imagine the whole debacle has arisen as follows:
  1. It would be nice if we could have meaningful TV debates ahead of a general election.
  2. We can't have every party represented or it would be chaos.
  3. We can't have SNP/Plaid Cymru/NI parties involved, as they aren't directly relevant to the whole UK.
  4. If we only have Tory/Labour/Lib Dem leaders then we are not covering the election fairly in Scotland and Wales.
  5. Technically we can't broadcast the debates to restricted areas (all regional channels are available on Sky for example).
  6. So there isn't a fair way to stage the TV debates. But f**k it, let's have them anyway, as I said in point 1 it would be nice to have them, wouldn't it?
Every time you hear about "free and fair elections" in future, ask yourself whether that description applies to the UK. Free perhaps, but fair?

A parting shot: why would the following not have worked? Have the debates as they are, but with a representative from the SNP and Plaid Cymru included. The SNP/PC representatives may only speak when devolved matters are being discussed (ironically this idea is inspired by the SNP policy of not voting on England-only matters at Westminster).


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I've linked to it.

forfar-loon said...

Thanks tris. Yesterday was a sad day for UK democracy. I do sense change is in the air though, even if it looks most likely to come about through a media-inflated Lib Dem surge. Talk of electoral reform looms large. Imagine some kind of PR for Westminster elections in Scotland - that would be a real change to the political landscape, and long overdue.

Dramfineday said...

What is pityful is that the BBC didn't even try to serve democracy - as you point out they could have at least tried. But no, lets not show any initiative or freedom of thought, better to be in cahoots as it'll protect the knighthoods and other gongs.

Roll on the day we can dump this london biased lot and drop their local Glasgow branch in the Clyde

forfar-loon said...

Too right DFD, not just the BBC either - the panic of the entire media is all too obvious as the Lib Dems look set to disrupt the cosy Lab-Con-Media symbiosis. We've had a taste of that in Scotland over the last few years with the rise of the SNP unsettling the various Scottish rags. Nice to see England following suit at last!