Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sky Issues Election Debate Invites to Party Leaders

I have always believed that there should be debates between the three main party leaders in general election campaigns. Sky News have now upped the ante and issued formal invitations to the three party leaders to take part in an election debate. David Cameron has already accepted and it is safe to say that Nick Clegg will follow suit. It's a clever move on Sky's part. If Gordon Brown is sensible he will accept too, but if not, and Sky empty chair him, could the Labour Party then call on Ofcom to intervene and order Sky not to go ahead?
Adam Boulton explains HERE why he believes it is right for such a debate to go ahead and urges people to sign a petition HERE supporting the idea.


Mostly Ordinary said...

We have this every election, the person who thinks he wins wants it and the one who thinks he is going to lose doesn't.

Shame we don't get to interview our local candidates. By the time the election comes around I already know what the Leaders are going to say and I'm not voting for them.

The Laughing Cavalier said...

Macavity won't appear, he'll send Mandelson in his place.

Alan Douglas said...

A message to any leader thinking of NOT taking part : "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

Hahahahahahaha ...

Alan Douglas

Mark Reckons said...

I completely agree Iain and have just blogged about this myself here.

I don't see how Labour could force Sky not to go ahead if they have given them the opportunity to put their leader forward. Their commitment to balance will have been executed surely?

Sean Haffey said...

I am afraid that, due to subsequent commitments, Gordon will be showing his courage on a lightning visit to Afghanistan on the day(s) of the debate.

Such a pity really, but such is the nature of his job.

Linders said...

It looks like it will go ahead then. Imagine the political fallout if Labour did make OFCOM pull the plug on the whole thing... disaster.

Letters From A Tory said...

This is an excellent move by Sky. Forcing Brown's hand is much smarter than simply asking Brown whether he'd like to take part.

Dippyness. said...

No chance of CB taking part. Mandy can't do it, didn't look like he wanted to this morning.
BTW. Well done last night on BBC News paper review. Excellent getting Sky's election debate invite on first. They did not look happy. Good work Ian. Your best yet I think.

Dom said...

Could the debate really be held without the pm?

Quietzapple said...

The standard is that the incumbent says "No" and the others prattle about it.

strapworld said...

Although I have signed the petition, as I believe such debates would be a valued part of general elections. I still have concerns.

Why now? Is Boulton aware of a general election announcement shortly? At the Labour Party Conference perhaps?

So, Brown does not appear. Thus an empty chair. Boulton puts the Labour Party view (and let us all face it he is married to the Labour Party!).

I do not trust Boulton to be even handed.

Could this be a vehicle to wreck Cameron? He has jumped in rather too quickly I fear.

Could be very interesting.

Quietzapple said...

SKY is owned by a foreign based billionaire who just might be expected to support a tax cutting, de-civilising tory party run by G Osborne et al

Tcheuchter said...

The three "main" parties, eh? So no meaningful discussion about Europe then.

Anonymous said...

I'm against it because it doesn't take account of the new politics since devolution.
In Scotland where I vote the Tories and the LibDems are peripheral parties,and the battle is between Labour and SNP. Why should the SNP (and Plaid) be excluded from a debate for a WESTMINSTER election?
All or nothing.

Chris Paul said...

Let it be on the BBC. Sky is profit driven, less watched and hardly independent, despite the "profits" motive that is so "chilling".

Word ver: reflog

As in dead horse.

If it comes to legals I doubt Sky can carry this programming without the PM's participation or his surrogate or at least his consent.

Would clearly break rules on balance during an election period to empty chair him I'd say. Inviting Brown would not be enough to call it balanced if he doesn't choose to play.

Let it be on the BBC.

Quietzapple said...

If Gordon Brown Does take part he might have to find a euphemism for "There you go again" when addressing Chameleon's 'points' or the thing might become rather repetitive . . .

Anonymous said...

No sitting Prime Minister will accept such an invitation and why would they ? It allows the Opposition to be put on an equal footing.

So Brown will not accept the invite and the debate won't go ahead QED

Anonymous said...

What's smart is how this outmanoeuvres the BBC, who would have been thought the natural home of a leadership debate. Now they'll have to argue for 2 debates if they are to get one.

Siberian Tory said...

"Could this be a vehicle to wreck Cameron?"

No strapworld it's a vehicle to stick it to Brown. Murdoch is severly pissed off with Brown after the News of the World row. Apparently it's getting inches in the Times as well.

Murdoch knows if Brown comes on as incumbant he'll suffer most but if he doesn't and gets empty chaired then he'll still suffer.

"So no meaningful discussion about Europe then." - so UKIP then

"Why should the SNP (and Plaid) be excluded from a debate"

This could be interesting; everyone except Labour clamouring for representation.

On the more high minded level I also think such debates will invigorate the campaigns and spell out the differences. It shows how far behind the times politics is; they're still not fully exploiting television as a medium.

Most ordinary makes a great point and the BBC local channels would be a good vehicle for PPCs and MPs

Barnacle Bill said...

Sky and Boulton have too many vested interests for them to be seen as disinterested parties in setting up this debate.
AS strapworld mentions might there be something in the wind that Cameron & Clegg have not cottoned onto?
Personally I am against a televised debate there are too many opportunities for underhandiness from all parties.
Now if my local landlord was to issue the invitations I might look upon this a bit more cheerfully.

Libertarian said...

So who exactly are the main parties the Iain?

In Scotland that would be SNP, Labour and LibDems

In England and Wales ( based on results of last national election)

That would be Tories, UKIP and LibDems

Libertarian said...


Yes Murdoch the foreign billionaire that supported Labour in the last 3 elections. Sky news chief political correspondent married to Anji Hunter a former senior Labour Party insider.

I'm not a tory and won't be voting for them but this tribal nonsense about de-civilising from a party of illegal wars, torture of prisoners, hounding of scientific advisers, lies, smears, fraud and every con in the book is laughable.

How you have the front to even post your drivel is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Would we actually learn anything from this it would it just be an hour of soundbites from all three sides, like PMQs but without the amusing interjections from the backbenches?

It also encourages us to think that we'r voting for a Prime Minister, an individual, rather than our local MP. And that only encourages the PM (whoever it may end up being) to think they're the president, even more so than they do now.

fyoc said...

What could your readers suggest should be put in his seat if he doesn't turn up? a false eye or a set of veneers from a private dentist?

David Boothroyd said...

Nowhere does Adam Boulton talk at all about the important groundrules - for instance, would all three leaders debate together with equal time (even though the Liberal Democrats are a third party)? Will the leaders be permitted to cross-question each other directly? How will the time be divided? Are the leaders allowed briefing notes? Is there a live audience? Will the questions be posed by one person (presumably A. Boulton Esq) or by a panel? Are there any questions from the public?

All these things need to be settled before the debate can happen and some of them are quite crucial to whether leaders participate. (The most workable idea for fixing the 'Lib Dem problem' in the past has been to have three debates, each one on one, with leaders going against each other Lab v Con, Lab v Lib Dem, Con v Lib Dem)

Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

I don't think Labour could stymie this. As I understand it, Ofcom only responds to complaints after a programme has aired - there's no question of prior restraint. And it's unthinkable an actual legal injunction could be obtained, since it's unlikely the broadcast would be in any way unlawful, and the much-criticised Human Rights Act is a huge obstacle in the way of prior restraint on broadcasters' freedom of expression. In this case Labour would be able to claim no competing fundamental human right such as respect for private life.

So I think Sky can go ahead. If no official Labour spokesman turned up then to achieve balance in terms of the Broadcasting Code they'd probably have some unofficial person giving the Labour line, or at the very least the presenters would keep putting Labour's case as best they could to Cameron and Clegg.

Of course that's all fantasy land: Gordon has been cornered into this now since not to turn up would make him look a scaredy-cat. It makes you wonder why broadcasters haven't tried this stunt before, at least when the PM has been weak, in 1997, say. If I were Gordon Brown I'd want to be there just to make sure Sky didn't replace me with Polly Toynbee.

Or even Tony Blair.

tomandclaire said...

Would very much like to see an even handed debate, but I do not trust Boulton. Sky is labour owned through and through

Anonymous said...

If Cameron and Clegg are doing it, brown cannot be allowed to deputise.

Lard please.

David said...

Does everyone not remember the US Debates (where all minor parties were excluded)? Careful pre-prepared non answers with everyone much more interested in not making a mistake than being interesting. Brown will be better than we think because he will simply say what he wants to say rather than address questions. Format will prevent follow up so he gets away with this. Clegg will do his little lost schoolboy act desperately trying to remember the lines Vince fed him and Cameron will be by far the best but a little too smooth for his own good. Afterwards everyone will say, well what was that about?

Quietzapple said...

@ Libertarian

Had the Tories looked like winning and adopting a reduced tax programme off course Murdoch would have supported whomever the tories put up. In fact he has always acted in his own interests - gain credibility by supporting the winner, then sue influence.

No time, you ain't worth the edge of my tongue.

Siberian Tory said...


The best sugguestion I've heard so far was on GF's website

A book on courage and a bucket of snot.

Anonymous said...

" Chris Paul said...
Let it be on the BBC. Sky is profit driven, less watched and hardly independent, despite the "profits" motive that is so "chilling"."
Are you saying that the BBC IS independent? If you are, you're even more deluded than your Glorious Leader.

"If it comes to legals I doubt Sky can carry this programming without the PM's participation or his surrogate or at least his consent."

Why? He has been given every opportunity to take part. It's not as if he hasn't had sufficient prior warning, is it?

"Would clearly break rules on balance during an election period to empty chair him I'd say. "

Of course, you would. You want balance, so you want it on the BBC? If that idea wasn't so pathetic it would be laughable.

"Inviting Brown would not be enough to call it balanced if he doesn't choose to play."

He's been invited, he has the choice of how he wishes to debate - if his chosen method is not to attend, that's his decision.

If Brown decides that he doesn't want to debate the issues, leave his chair empty, except for a single white feather.

No substitutes should be allowed.

neil craig said...

So there goes the public service commitment of the BBC.

Anonymous said...

So as not to upset the supporters of the smaller parties there should be a second debate between them perhaps on channel 5 around midnight after g-string divas.

David Lindsay said...

There should not be televised debates between the Party Leaders in the run-up to the General Election. We shall be electing a Parliament, not a President. In this as in every other way, Sky must not try and become Fox.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Clegg has confirmed, according to the PA.

This is not going to happen with Brown on board.

First, Mandy's assertion that he would have not problem with this is sheer bravado, bordering on a fib.

Brown cannot appear on Television in this kind of arena. Even with the strictest of controls, even with editorial control, even in the putative safe haven of number 10, Brown as a communicator stinks.

When some of these controls are taken away, he is revealed as a grinning fool who is unable to face criticism. The last time his people lost control of the agenda was in Brussels with Dan Hannan (it appears that Number Ten was onto the EU Parliament the next day trying to get assurances that Brown would not be exposed to this ever again).

Fraser Nelson managed to get up his nose in the regulated arena of the Downing Street press conference, and there is no telling how Brown would cope with a two-pronged attack from Cameron and Clegg, without the backing of cat-calling MPs and planted PMQs.

No. New Labour relies on control of the media agenda. They are not going to nobble Sky, since it is clear that Murdoch has dumped Brown big-time.

Anybody willing to bet me?

WV podibroo

Bath plugs for the many, not the few said...

Is 'upping the anti' similar in any way to upping the ante?

Country Boy said...

Empty-chairing would be an interesting test of the Ofcom and/or BBC election guidelines (which replaced the statutory broadcasting requirements of the Representation of the Peoples Act some years ago).

My understanding is that the main restrictions are (and always were) on reports about specific constituencies. The rest is governed by a requirement for due impartiality. If I were Sky and feeling bullish (which it looks like they are!), I'd offer Gordo a longer-form interview the next night for balance, and stick the tub of lard on during the debate.

The full rules on Ofcom's website ( lists the "major parties" for the UK as Lab, Con and LibDem. I know the BBC gave UKIP equal airtime for the Euro-elections based on their proven support in that arena, but I guess that wouldn't necessarily be the case in a UK general election.

Thomas Rossetti said...

Some people seem to think the proposed debate would really energise the electorate and get many more people interested in politics. It may do slightly but you shouldn't count on a revolution. Over here in America, the presidential debates were hardly gripping stuff. The best thing of all, in fact, was when John McCain wandered between the moderator and the autocue, thus making himself and Tom Brokaw look silly. (The prospect of an empty Labour podium is funny, though.)

Quietzapple said...

Looks like it is a SKY PR stunt, no wonder Clegg and Chameleon are first in line . . .

Bill Quango MP said...

Rehearsals continue for the debate on Sky News...

"So ladies and gentlemen, tonight on Boulton & co, the live election debate.
First question from a Mrs trellis. Why is the pound only worth 75% of what it was in 2005, the economy still in recession when France and Germany are out of recession?

... I'm sprry Lord Mandelson has had an injunction placed on that question. Here is another one from a Mr V. Cable. Why are only the UK and USA still running the printing presses red hot making phony money when everyone else has stopped, why are our unemployment statistics far worse than every other European country except Spain.. I'm sorry again that question has been embargoed.

So have the ones about Afghanistan, Libya, Scottish devolution, Welsh support for conservatives, Mp's expenses, road pricing, Lisbon treaty, anything about UKIP, rail electrification, Heathrow, closing primary schools in rural areas, royal Mail sell off, VAT rise to 20%, helicopters, moral compasses, ...

Mandy we have to ask something?
Can I ask why we haven't even had a decent summer since he came to power? Is it linked to the Jonah effect?

No? Hmm .OK...

So, Prime Minister Brown, did you pick that tie yourself or did Sarah choose it..

Why are his hands shaking and clenching like that? Is the PM Ok? He's gone a funny red face
colour.. cut, cut.

Cynic said...

If you want to see BBC balance in action look here

Milliband's apologia for what happened (if it can be called that) gets top billing. The Related stories opposite are almost all Labour spin and lies or messages of support for the release

"No double dealing"
"Bomber was exemplary prisoner"
"Minister Stands by bomber release"

and even Gawd help us

"Mandela backs Lockerbie decision"

The quoted reaction is from 'The Orange Party' blog culled from the web. Its quite hard hitting but
Cameron's excellent attack on Labours spin and lies is way down the page - in a comepelte different section. Careful now - you may miss it.


Cynic said...

I wouldnt empty chair it. Id put in the chair a blow up doll with a picture of Borwn's face stuck on it.

It will exhibit more personality and give more answers than he will if he attends, so how can OFCOM complain?

Russell said...

If Brown bottles it he should be replaced by a tub of lard (noticed how fat he's getting?) containing a single white feather, a giant bogey and a piece of debris from Pan-Am Flight 103.

The tub of lard should be painstakingly questioned about Labour's vision for the country and the proper amount of time allowed for it to reply.

Jamie said...

The American debates last year were an utter disappointment. I sat through them out of interest and in the hope that they would be what everyone seemed to think that they would be, but they were both deeply dull and didn't help to differentiate the candidates.

Of course, I'm sure it's fun to try and shame Gordon into it as he's almost certain to lose the election, but PMQs is hardly the best forum for rigorous debate at the moment, I don't expect a tv debate to be any better.

a cunning linguist said...

'up the ante' term taken from poker and other gaes played for financial stakes, roughly equivalent to 'raised the stakes' though with some semantic differences.*

'upping the anti' = erm....raising the level of objection?

*in most games, the ante is raised automatically over time, not voluntarily by a player who has a good hand or wishes to pretend so.

Ciraric said...

I'm sure you meant "...upped the ante..." but don't let me see you do it again.

Anonymous said...

Quietzapple, keep crying. Your tears are delicious. Your anguish sustains me.

Cry some more because you know the Tories will win. Weep for my amusement because you know your party will be out of power for two decades. Your misery nourishes me.

Anonymous said...

Very good idea. Any leader that does not show up deserves to be shown up.

True Belle said...

Will there be adverts running at 2minute intervals, will there be a heavy sound track and clunking voice overs? Ughhh

When did you say we were having power cuts?

Uncle Bob said...

Sky have offered a feed so that the BBC can show it too if they wish. But I'd probably pick Sky to view it on. Seeing the sheer look of panic in Brown's HD! The stuff of dreams...and nightmares!

If Brown doesn't agree they can no chair him, Sky does not have to be 'balanced'. They gave him the invite, more fool him if he didn't show up. Whilst Cameron has most to lose he is the one who is keenest and has totally committed himself to it.

It seems like the entire blogosphere has posted on this...and I'm not one to buck the trend, so HERE.
is my take on it

Cynic said...

"the thing might become rather repetitive . . ."

With Brown involved it would be bound to. But extracts of his contribution could always be marketed as aids for those afflcited with insomnia

Greg said...

I watched the Presidential debates and the VP debate whilst in the states. I can honestly say the only thing I got out of it was a massive hangover from playing a drinking game that involved taking a swig of something everytime Palin said the word maverick or something similar.

The answers will be carefully scripted. They will spend hours with psychologists and make up ensuring that they appear as positive as possible without actually saying anything of substance.

From a partisan point of view I think it is a good thing as I believe that Cameron will come across much better. However more objectively I don't think this is the panacea that some believe it will be. Why will a practically staged event engage the electorate in politics and improve their trust in the system?

Ted said...

In part this is silly season nonsense: the incumbent party always avoids a debate as it gives the opposition exposure and status, the opposition want one for the same reason and the media like it as it gives them an angle. Blair might have enjoyed a debate, but would be too smart to agree to unnecssary political risk (what's his upside?); Brown isn't so smart politically, but he doesn't have the courage to say yes. Hamlet without the scowling prince just isn't going to happen.

What makes me uncomfortable - as it has some many of the above - is seeing the Murdoch empire taking a more coordinated line across Sky and the Times. It makes James Murdoch's recent swipe at the BBC look the most outrageous brass neck.

Unsworth said...

Brown will throw a sickie and Mandelson will take his place.

Still, nice to see the BBC wrong-footed.

Reed said...

There is always this idea put across, by many who are against a debate, that it is too presidential. This is a bit bogus. Just because the Americans have debates between Presidential candidates doesn't mean that the concept of debates between potential leaders is intrinsically Presidentail. The three leaders in question are all leaders of their respective parties and want to be Prime Minister. Why should they not be able to spell out to the public their party's manifesto.
The idea that we only elect a party to govern, and that the leader is somehow a lesser part of the equation is not really true. Why else would political parties, and the public, invest so much in the leader. Why do we all get so pissed off when Gordon Brown dissappears as soon as the going gets tough, refusing to comment, if the leadership wasn't a big deal? We expect him to be out front, taking a lead.
The person at the top is the one who shoulders the most responsibility for putting their party's case to us. Let it happen publicly, in a setting that puts them out of their comfort zone.
Slick and smarmy Party Political Broadcasts just don't cut it anymore(if they ever did).

Elliot Kane said...

I'm not sure Ofcom could or would put a stop to it, seeing as the invitation was open to all three leaders of the major parties and it would be entirely Gordon's choice to accept or decline as he sees fit. Sky can legitimately claim that they are offering the exact same opportunity to all three party leaders, without fear or favour.

I suppose Labour could argue that for the sake of the public interest such a debate should be held on terrestrial television, but that would only result in the venue being moved.

They might argue duress, I suppose, but voters will draw their own conclusions if one of the three party leaders runs and hides when the other two are willing to debate.

If Nick Clegg accepts too, then Gordon will pretty much have to. If Clegg declines, there's no debate and Gordon escapes.

So I guess it's all on Nick Clegg, really...

DMC said...

First, America does not have debates, it has joint Press Conferences- were everything is so scripted that you learn nothing from the candidates. 2 minute statesments followed by a 1 minute rebuttled- gimmie a break!

If there is to be a debate then thats what it needs to be a debate! Were questions are posed and answered properly.

John Pickworth said...

Signed Sky's petition around 6pm Wednesday - at count number 2258

Just checked the count again at 1am Thursday and its just hit 3500 and increasing by the minute

Anonymous said...

So you've got the far left, the centre left and the loony left all debating in another big Yawn-Fest.

Quietzapple said...

Some of my best belly laughs come from Anon, why do such fouls get both me and their assessments of the political situation so desperately wrong?

4 losses in a row, and Cameron will be the . . is it the FIFTH tory leader not to become PM IN A ROW?

Labour learns, Tories never do, except Ashcroft who spends on the marginals, most likely illegally.

I'm so glad I don't judge myself by the idgits who troll in opposition. Otherwise louts like those usual would have sent me to confidence building sessions with Muhammad Ali's tutor long ago,

up the potters said...

I'd like Dave to answer the Tory point of the VAT cut being a waste of time, especially when his (former) mates in the CBI contradict him.

I'd also like Dave to expalain why he dislikes bull fighting.

Let's not forget our winning catchphrase for the next four years-10%.

Should Gordon give Dave a platform?

You should look very deep within the Labour Party structure Iain and see why this won't happen.

My prediction: A Labour 4th victory and a total wipeout of the BNP across the Country.

You Tory bloggers are on the wrong track and looking at mundane SKY questions. Look deeper.