Leaders’ debates should be enshrined in law

Christian Weaver

Christian Weaver

The absence of a head-to-head, proper interactive debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband is an affront to the British electorate who, on the whole, would have wished to see both party leaders question and address each other on matters affecting our everyday lives.

Some people might feel that the interviews both leaders had with Jeremy Paxman separately on March 26 were sufficient. I don’t.

Cameron should have agreed to this debate, as well as the recent ‘Seven Leaders’ debate right from the beginning. He has been ‘playing politics’ with this issue at a time when the general public is frankly sick of politicians and increasingly cynical of the political process.

The 2010 leaders’ debates were watched by just under 10 million people. It was the most watched show of the day and received higher viewing figures than last year’s X-Factor final.

The figures for the Paxman interviews with Cameron and Miliband reached just over three million. This was the ideal opportunity for them to debate together in front of the British electorate.

My rant is not a party political one. Indeed Tony Blair, Labour Prime Minister, also refused to take part in any Leaders’ debate. Ed Miliband rather admirably has consistently made all the right kind of noises, however it would be unfair for me to speculate on whether he would have been quite as eager if he were in the same position as Cameron, given the prevailing wisdom that election debates favour opposition leaders rather than the incumbent Prime Minister.

The key point is that no Prime Minister should be able to decide, as part of their tactical considerations, whether they will participate in a head to head debate with the leader of the opposition.

This practice is, I believe, an abuse of their power and an affront to our democracy. The British people deserve the right to witness open, credible debates between the main party leaders to inform where they put their cross on the ballot paper.

They should, by right, have an opportunity to gain an ‘up-close’ appraisal of their potential prime minister. They should be able to gain a sense of their policies, commitments, approach, their personalities, their characters and (yes) how they respond when placed under pressure in the full glare of the British people or indeed the world.

A proper head to head between the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition during election periods provides a perfect and timely opportunity for proper scrutiny and accountability to the British people. I am one of a growing number of people that feels that this must be now enshrined in law.

Christian Weaver
President of Nottingham Trent University’s Politics Society

This article originally appeared in the Nottingham Post

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