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Greens, SNP & Welsh nationalists slam BBC over exclusion from TV election debates

Greens, SNP & Welsh nationalists slam BBC over exclusion from TV election debates
The Green Party, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru have joined forces to urge the BBC to re-examine its decision to exclude “minor” parties from live televised debates in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

The calls come after an online petition with over 217,000 signatories protested against the BBC’s decision not to include the Green Party in live election debates.

In their joint letter, the three parties, backed by crossbenchers, call on the BBC to include a broader range of political opinion in the debates, citing “clear public support” for more diverse debates.

In October it was proposed that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) would join the three dominant parties, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, in a debate featuring the four party leaders – PM David Cameron for the Tories, Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats, Opposition leader Ed Miliband for the Labour party and Nigel Farage for UKIP.

According to the BBC and other broadcasters, this would be followed by a debate between the Tory, Lib Dem and Labour leaders.

The BBC further proposed that the final televised debate feature just Cameron and Miliband.

Farage, Clegg, Miliband & Cameron in live election TV debate. Why Farage? Why not Sturgeon? Or Green Party? Just as relevant if not more so.

— Ritchie Patton (@RitchieReview) October 13, 2014

In the letter, the joint signatories quote the BBC’s ethical guidelines on elections, asserting that the BBC is bound to: “Engage a wide audience in news, current affairs and other topical issues. Encourage conversation and debate about news, current affairs and topical issues. Build greater understanding of the parliamentary process and political institutions governing the UK.”

They argue that without the opportunity to publicly hear from political parties outside the mainstream, “these duties would not be fully discharged.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband (R) and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (C) (AFP Photo)

The letter comes as a YouGov survey found more Brits would vote for the Green Party than for UKIP. The results triggered a mass internet campaign to include the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett, in the television debates.

The poll further showed that Labour stand at 3 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives, while UKIP, who claim to have overtaken the Liberal Democrats as the UK’s third major party, were found to command the support of only 17 percent of voters.

The BBC rejected calls for the Greens to take part in the debate, claiming the party had not demonstrated a significant enough rise in popular support.

The group of signatories, including Green MP Caroline Lucas and Baroness Grey Thompson, argue “there is clear public support for broadening out the leaders’ debates. Regardless of their politics, most people have a strong sense of what is right and fair.”

“Whilst we welcome the BBC’s recent decision to consult on its draft election guidelines, we believe the corporation’s public service remit makes a clear case for wider representation than is currently envisaged,” the letter adds.

The v. important petition to include the Greens in the TV debate. I don't support them, but I do support democracy. https://t.co/yzz5eh6whF

— Rhiannon. (@rizzle_sanders) November 5, 2014

In a response, the BBC claimed that decisions for the televised election debates were based on evidence of both past and present political support.

“Opinion polls are part of that evidence whereby we take account of consistent and robust trends across different polls over time, rather than reacting to individual polls,” the taxpayer-funded broadcaster said.

The BBC further claimed that UKIP had consistently polled ahead of the Greens, and that because the SNP and Plaid Cymru are not standing in UK-wide elections, they would therefore benefit from a regional, rather than national, debate.

The initial Green Party petition claimed that by excluding a party with a female leader from the televised debate, politics was perpetuating itself as an “old boys’ club.”