THE DECISION of Britain’s four broadcasters to set the parameters for next year’s general election debates has, predictably, been met with suspicion by supporters of David Cameron and Ed Miliband – the two men with most to lose – and disdain from the smaller parties who believe that they are being marginalised.
However these concerns need to be put into perspective. Britain’s political elite have had four years since the inaugural debates to finalise the rules of engagement and have failed to do so. It is clear that the Prime Minister has been dragging his feet on this issue after being upstaged by Nick Clegg in 2010.
Accommodating the smaller parties was always going to be a stumbling block and so it has been proven. The Scottish Nationalist Party, who have hopes of holding the power balance at Westminster, have been ignored; the Green Party have been overlooked despite having the same number of MPs at present as Ukip and Nigel Farage believes that his party should feature in all three debates after topping the European election poll.
Yet the TV companies deserve to be congratulated for their foresight. Their intention is for there to be a fortnight’s gap between each debate so the respective leaders have sufficient time for traditional electioneering. And it is right that the series concludes with a head-to-head clash between Mr Cameron and the Opposition leader – these, after all, are the only two leaders who are vying to be Prime Minister. Hopefully these extended exchanges, chaired by the one and only Jeremy Paxman, will prove to be far more enlightening, and revealing, than their weekly jousts at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Now that the national broadcasters have outlined their protocols, the choice facing the main parties is a simple one – take it or leave it. It should be their democratic duty to make their case to the country and they will only have themselves to blame if they are represented by an empty chair.
Scotland first, England second
ON THE day that Tory defector Douglas Carswell, the United Kingdom Independence Party’s first elected MP, swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen before taking his seat in the House of Commons, it became clear that the main parties have learned little from recent political upheavals.
The main Parliamentary event was the publication of the command paper that will pave the way for the devolution of additional tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament following last month’s referendum vote on independence.
Yet it is already clear that the timetable set out by Gordon Brown in his unexpected eve-of-referendum intervention is likely take precedence. Issues set to fall by the wayside include the small matter of “English votes for English laws”, despite David Cameron’s insistence that this will be allied to new powers for Holyrood, and “recall” legislation to make MPs more accountable to their voters. This is a long-overdue reform which was assiduously championed by Mr Carswell prior to his defection in conjunction with other like-minded backbenchers such as Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis and the environmentalist Zac Goldsmith.
There was one final omission from yesterday’s order paper – a statement from a senior Cabinet minister on the Yorkshire Regiment’s deployment to northern Iraq. A government that understood the disquet of voters living in the English regions would not have erred in this way.
Out of credit on the golf course
NOW we know it – the reckless bankers who exacerbated the financial crisis are still members of “the best golf courses”. Who says so? No less an authority than Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who condemned the lack of accountability at the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting.
Yet Mr Carney made an equally profound point when he said that non-executive directors and others should resign from their roles if they were incapable of holding the banks to account over their business practices. He is right – this relationship has been too cosy in the past and allowed bankers to take the benevolence of their customers, and then taxpayers, for granted.
Instead of corporate executives overseeing the banks, perhaps the Governor should set up panels of ordinary people – a small businessman or a mother juggling the family finances – to monitor bonuses and so on. They’re likely to ask far more taxing questions than most.