Friday, January 23, 2015

The BBC website misleads readers on the Ofcom "major party" proposals for a second time

Iain Watson, writing on the BBC website about the revised proposals for leaders' debates -

"And it's possible that when negotiations with the parties begin on the new proposals both Labour and UKIP will say two potentially unwieldy debates with seven participants is over the top and wouldn't it be better to transform one of these into a clash between those which broadcasting regulator Ofcom regards as the "major" parties? That would restrict the platform to David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage..."

NO IT WOULDN'T. How many times does this London-centric misapprehension have to be corrected? Ofcom only proposed that UKIP be given major party status in England and Wales, in much the same way that they are only proposing to give the SNP major party status in Scotland. This is not a matter of interpretation - it's there in black and white. If these debates are to be regarded as GB-wide, there are three parties (Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats) that have major party status throughout the whole of Great Britain, and three other parties (the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP) that have major party status in part of Great Britain. There is no conceivable sense in which Ofcom are proposing to give UKIP superior status to the SNP and Plaid.

If, on the other hand, these debates are supposed to be UK-wide as opposed to GB-wide, then there are literally no parties that have major party status throughout the whole country. There are eleven parties that have major party status in part of the country (and that doesn't include the Greens, weirdly enough).


  1. It's rooted in the old "England & Wales" actually means "UK". They seem to be interchangeable terms to some.

    So if you are a "major" party in England & Wales then .....

  2. To be honest with you Murray McCallum... the '& Wales' bit is strictly optional too.

  3. How can the Liberals ever be considered as a major party?

  4. The BBC have got this wrong, clearly.

    But the Ofcom approach is very problematic. Given that this is a UK wide election, electing members of a UK parliament, the first - and arguably the sole- question should have been "which are the major UK parties". There is a legitimate debate then about whether a second country-specific question is required and if so what the consequence of additional parties being "major" in one or more countries but not UK-wide means in terms of debate structure/additional debates (I would be strongly inclined to say yes, and that this should result in additional country-specific debates, if necessary).

    If Ofcom had considered who the major UK parties are, then by any objective criteria the Conservatives and Labour would be included. On almost any objective criteria the Liberal Democrats would be included. And arguments of varying strengths could be made for UKIP and the SNP, depending on how much weight you apply to different criteria like number of seats held, performance in other elections, UK-wide polling support (current and historical), current seat projections etc. I don't think a sensible case can be made for any other party to be considered a major party on a UK basis.

    But we are where we are. Cameron may have played a good tactical hand by calling for the Greens' inclusion but it was an absurd position to take in isolation and inevitably meant that the SNP and Plaid had to participate too. I don't see how the major Northern Irish parties can now be refused, on any consistently applied criteria. But Cameron, and the broadcasters, are now just making it up as they go along.

    The one good thing to come out of this is it is almost certain now that the debates will happen, and thus it will be harder for any party to resist them in the future. But we can only hope Ofcom or the broadcasters themselves produce some coherent guidelines for inclusion in UK-wide debates at the next election. Ideally before this one is held, so the guidelines are less likely to be influenced by a desired outcome and all parties can know what they are shooting at.

    1. Labour don't stand in Northern Ireland so are not a 'UK-wide' party.

      Other than that, I generally agree. However, while having farage on the telly might help the SNP by splitting the unionist vote, I don't see why he should be in any debate in Scotland. It breaks rules on air time during campaigns.

      4 home nation debates only broadcast in each nation is the solution.

      We get Dave, Ed, Nick, and Nicola, maybe Harvie too based on polling + seats.

      People in England are saying 'Why SNP - I can't vote for them'. It's a fair point. But then I can't vote for Caroline Lucas's Greens, so why should they be on the telly here? If Greens are in a Scottish broadcast debate, then it should be Harvie for the Scottish Greens.

  5. Any debate which is broadcast UK-wide should have all significant UK parties included (and that includes NI parties). Otherwise the few parties which are privileged to be classed as UK-wide gain an unfair advantage as they will be included in UK-wide debates and "regional" debates in most cases. If a debate is viewable in Scotland, for instance, it should include the SNP regardless of where else it is viewable.