Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When is a leaders' debate not a leaders' debate?

Michael Crick should be commended on his honesty, because he's effectively conceded in his blog that the broadcasters are deliberately cooking up a wheeze for the sole purpose of entirely excluding the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the main televised election debates. The proposed 'solution' to what many have conceded is the Nationalists' fairly unanswerable case for representation seems to be the rough equivalent of just sticking on a sultry voiceover from Dervla Kirwan to inform us that "these are not just leaders' debates...these are BBC/Sky/ITV Prime Ministerial Debates".

As explained by Crick, the logical basis for this brainwave is that, as the SNP are only standing in 59 out of 650 seats, Alex Salmond can't become Prime Minister, and therefore by definition can't qualify for a 'Prime Ministerial Debate'. I left the following comment on the blog to express my (to put it mildly) scepticism, which will hopefully appear once it's been through the moderation process -

"Nope. This still won't stand up in a Scottish court, which is presumably exactly where the SNP will be heading if they are to be outrageously excluded altogether from the main debates. Contrary to the implication of Michael's post, it is simply not necessary for a party to stand in a majority of seats to become Prime Minister - the 1924 Labour government had just 191 seats out of 615. In the early 1990s the Indian Prime Minister represented a party that had a tiny minority of seats in parliament, and there are numerous examples from continental European countries as well. Once that indisputable fact is pointed out in court - and it'll take about ten seconds - this rather desperate and cynical attempt to draw a distinction between 'party leaders' and 'Prime Ministerial candidates' will disintegrate rather quickly. Of course everyone knows Alex Salmond isn't going to be PM, but then everyone knows precisely the same about Nick Clegg. The principle is exactly the same for both leaders - and neither of them, incidentally, are leaders of nationwide parties (the Lib Dems don't stand in Northern Ireland, and nor do Labour for that matter).

Strictly speaking, under the British system it's not even necessary to be a party leader to become Prime Minister, only an MP or peer - witness the cases of both Lloyd George or Churchill. So by that standard, there are not three potential 'candidates for Prime Minister' standing at the election, nor four, or even five, but in fact several thousand. I'd suggest a conventional party leaders' debate would be preferable to such a melee, even if (horror of horrors) that means actually providing fair representation to the leaders of all four major parties in both Scotland and Wales."

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