The people have spoken: The Green Party must be included in the TV debate
Author: Jonathan Whiting
Published: Friday, 14 November 2014
In its definition of purpose, the BBC claims that viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to reflect the many communities that exist in the UK.
It adds that the BBC will encourage conversation and debate about news, current affairs and topical issues, while building greater understanding of the parliamentary process and political institutions governing the UK.
So why is it that the Green Party, which beat the Liberal Democrats in the 2014 European elections and is polling neck-and-neck with them in opinion polls, has been excluded from the BBC’s proposed TV leader election debates ahead of the 2015 General Election?
In May 2014, more than 1.2 million people voted Green - 150,000 more than voted Liberal Democrat. And the Green Party has the same amount of MPs in the House of Commons as the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
Yet, in a somewhat retrospective decision, the BBC and other broadcasters proposed that only Ukip join the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives in the nationwide debate, followed by a discussion between the three ‘main parties’, then a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband.
The debates are seen as critical to Miliband’s chances of persuading the British electorate to vote for him as prime minister, however the decision to disallow the Green Party from taking part shows a backward view on past performance rather than a current look at public interest.
The Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru originally joined forces to ask the BBC to rethink its plans to exclude them from the debate. The call was made in a joint letter to the corporation that was backed by some cross-benchers and the Labour peer Lady Helena Kennedy.
But, despite this and a wave of online petitions, the BBC still rejected a demand from the Green Party to be included in the election debates, saying that, unlike Ukip, it had not demonstrated any substantial increase in support.
The broadcaster, in a letter to the Green Party director of communications, Penny Kemp, said: “Ukip has demonstrated a substantial increase in electoral support since 2014 across a range of elections along with a consistent and robust trend across a full range of opinion polls; the Green Party has not demonstrated any comparable increase in support in either elections or opinion polls.”
The letter added that the BBC would still be taking the result of the 2010 general election, where the Lib Dems took more than 50 seats and 23% share of the vote, as a starting point, demonstrating a level of electoral support substantially ahead of the Green Party.
Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, said: “We are concerned over the statement beginning ‘we would still … be taking as our starting point the result of the 2010 general election’. This demonstrates very clearly how the BBC appears to be acting as a worrying brake on democratic change; I believe they are failing to grasp that the future of politics doesn’t look like the past. This BBC attitude is contributing dangerously to the buildup of frustration and disillusionment with politics in the UK.”
Well over 261,000 people signed a Change.org #invitethegreens petition calling for the broadcasters to include the Green Party in the TV Leaders' Debates ahead of the 2015 General Election.
It was handed in to BBC Broadcasting House at 10.30am yesterday (November 13) by Robyn Meadwell, a 20-year-old Young Green activist who started the petition, and Green Party Co-Deputy Leader Amelia Womack. The petition demanded that Greens be included in the leaders’ debates based on natural justice and fairness.
The petition was received by a member of staff at the BBC, however the broadcaster declined to comment on its position regarding the subject. The two women also went on BBC 5 live before handing in the petition, to argue why the Greens should be included.
— Natalie Bennett (@natalieben) November 13, 2014
With the Green Party currently gaining a new member every five minutes and boasting a 77% increase in membership since the beginning of the year, it's hard to understand why they were not included in the leadership debate in the first place.
If the UK’s media is to maintain the true spirit of democracy, let’s just hope that with more than a quarter of a million people supporting the Green Party’s petition yesterday, the BBC starts making decisions based on the current climate and stops looking in the past.
The people have spoken; now it is time for the BBC and other corporations to act.