ERS: Politicians should not be able to call the shots on TV election debates format

Posted on the 5th November 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 4th November 2019

The Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society has called time on the ‘endless rows’ over the format of TV election debates.

The intervention comes amid a growing row over who should be included in the TV debates [1]. A report for the ERS in 2017 showed that the BBC Question Time leaders’ special influenced over one million voters’ decision on election day [2], showing just how important and influential they can be.

Speaking on Radio 4’s World at One, Darren Hughes called for a ‘Debates Commission’ to enshrine multi-party TV debates as part of our electoral framework. He said:

TV debates are becoming more and more important with each election. People aren’t voting with life-long loyalties so getting it right matters.

“The Question Time special in 2017 had four million viewers – and it helped over a third of them decide how to vote, according to research for the ERS.

“But the debate format cannot be held to ransom by party leaders each time. In the present anarchic set-up, so much depends on how broadcasters cut deals with politicians.

“So much of our politics feels broken because it happens behind closed doors, rather than with voters’ input. It’s time for citizens’ to shape a proper structure for TV debates that will last, and bring these perpetual ‘empty chairing’ rows to an end.

“Party leaders cannot be allowed to decide each election what to do – we need a more standardised and transparent approach. Voter should be guaranteed vibrant, multi-party debates – as well as head-to-heads that reflect how voters are ‘shopping around’ today.

He added:

“Perhaps the next Speaker can establish a Debates Commission, to ensure elections are not a plaything of parties but a tool for voters to learn, engage and hold leaders to account during a campaign.


Notes to Editors



Read more press releases...

Campaigners call for parties to back ‘vital’ Senedd reforms

Electoral Reform Society Cymru throws weight behind official Committee on Senedd Reform findings: “Now is the time to act to level up Welsh democracy”. Statement from the Electoral Reform Society Cymru – Thursday 10th September...

Posted 10 Sep 2020