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Televised election debates

22nd March 2010

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For the first time in British political history party leaders will be grilled in televised election debates. british political leaders

The debates will feature the leaders of the three main parties and a studio audience of members of the public. Politicians hope the debates will revive interest in politics but the presidential style debates are a move away from traditional British politics and are likely to turn in to PR stunts with enough spin to make you feel dizzy.

Gordon Brown is 'optimistic' about the future of Britain and eager to debate the 'big issues'. Cameron thinks the main objective of the debates is to 'get across to people what you stand for' while Lib Dem's Nick Clegg sees the debates as a 'big plus' as leaders will be 'properly scrutinised'.

The debates will be aired on ITV, Sky and BBC. The three topics will be domestic affairs, global issues and the economy. After those are discussed there will be a chance for the audience to ask questions on any subject and questions from the public can be sent in via email.

There have been mixed reactions from the public concerning the debates with some excited and others sceptical about their merit. The debates should allow the public to scrutinise each politician and party and therefore make a more informed decision at the polling station. But organisers have come under fire for the staged format the debates will take. The audience are to be quiet throughout the event: unable to cheer or boo with applause limited to the beginning and end of debates. The questions from the audience and emails will be vetted by a panel of senior journalists and the audience will be unable to respond to the speakers.

Harriet Harman expressed concerns that the debates will lack spontaneity. Market researchers ICM are to recruit the studio audience in an attempt to make it representational of the British population but there are worries that they may overly vet the audience. The limitation on audience participation and free debate have left some disappointed and angry.

None are as angry as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. With the debates only featuring the three main parties, there is a danger that this will reinforce the LabLibCon oligopoly of British politics. The BBC has agreed to hold separate debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but Angus Robertson, SNP's London representative, isn't satisfied. He thinks licence fee payers and voters in Scotland are being treated as 'second class citizens.'

The problem with the debates is how they will be interpreted. The efforts of broadcasters and organisers to keep them unbiased will be quashed as soon as the next days papers are released. The party leader's answers will be twisted and moulded to suit the newspaper's own agenda, swaying the British public and potentially even forming their views and votes.

The debates will be held in the final three weeks of election campaigning but will be formalised when the prime minister calls the election, widely expected to be held on the May 6. Regardless of if the debates will benefit democracy or are just another PR stunt, they will certainly be something worth watching.

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