Vibrant, multi-party TV election debates must be guaranteed, say ERS

Posted on the 18th September 2018

ERS back Sky call for leaders debate framework

Backing Sky News’ campaign for TV debates to be given a guaranteed framework, Willie Sullivan, Senior Director (Campaigns) at the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“In an era of political disillusionment, finding ways to bring politicians closer to the public is not just desirable but essential for the health of our democracy. TV debates are now an established way of doing that in the UK. For the past three elections, millions have tuned in to see party leaders put forward their ideas – and be held to account. As Sky note, it is time for a guaranteed framework to secure this, with buy-in from all broadcasters and parties. 

“As well as deciding the format, this framework could ensure leaders from a range of parties are compelled to take part. If a politician believes they are qualified to run the country, they should be willing and able to express the reasons why to the nation. In 2017, an ERS study showed that the BBC’s Question Time Leaders’ special – which didn’t feature a head-to-head clash – may have swung over a million people’s votes in the election. 56% of people believed leaders’ debates were important in helping them make their decision. The vast majority believed all leaders should commit to taking part.

“Voters take the TV debates seriously – and they want party leaders to take them seriously too – so it’s vital we get this right. A dedicated framework would ensure voters are guaranteed fair, live debates during elections. A range of party leaders should be expected to take part – reflecting the multi-party democracy we are.

“The value of diverse and vibrant TV debates is clear. Now they should be enshrined and independently governed. The UK’s campaign rules as a whole are out of control and out of date – it’s time to bring them into the 21st century.”

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director (Campaigns), Electoral Reform Society

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