Prior to the 2010 UK General Election, twenty-two million people – more than a third of the British population – watched history being made in the inaugural leaders’ debates featuring the three mainstream political parties. The public interrogated them, they scrutinised each other and voters received a new opening into frontline politics. The unprecedented success of the contests subsequently prompted Britain’s four main broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 – to announce joint proposals for a series of multi-platform leaders’ debates to be staged in the lead-up to the 2015 UK General Election, but suggest a format that will reflect the transformed political outlook across the country. Comprehensive deliberation amongst the broadcasters somewhat controversially engendered the inclusion of UKIP leader Nigel Farage in one debate but excludes the Greens altogether, even though both parties have virtually the same number of MPs in the House of Commons.
Nevertheless whilst the bickering rumbles on, it is also vital to recognise the importance of leaders’ debates in engaging voters in the political process.
The leaders’ debates undoubtedly altered the complexion of the campaign in 2010 and generated significant public interest in the General Election. Voter turnout increased to 65% - the highest turnout for thirteen years. Though an upsurge in the number of voters is unlikely to have been completely triggered by televised debates, it is highly likely they played an informative role. One of the cornerstones of democracy is an informed electorate – something that is partly achieved through leaders’ debates. Therefore I am wholeheartedly in favour of retaining televised leaders’ debates in the lead-up ...
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...re erasing any requirement for colossal sums of money to be invested in other forms of abortive advertisements and promotions.
In conclusion, the continuation of televised leaders’ debates is indispensable to ensuring that we perpetuate the unforeseen level of engagement exhibited from the electorate in the wake of the contests five years ago. The live showdowns of 2010 gave us “Clegg-mania” and “I agree with Nick” (an expression still habitually used at the close of this Parliament) but they also gave us an opportunity: an opportunity to stimulate authentic interest in the election, disproportionately amongst the younger generation, by holding our most senior politicians to account over their policies; an opportunity for politicians to ingrain our trust in them by persuading us they are worthy of being elected. An opportunity that we can ill afford to disregard.
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