Having UKIP in TV debates does not mean the Greens should be there too

So the Green Party is threatening legal action after broadcasters declined to invite them into TV debates:

Sky, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 set out a joint proposal that Nigel Farage should join Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron for one debate. In addition there would be one debate involving Clegg, Miliband and Cameron, as well as a single head-to-head between Miliband and Cameron as the two potential prime ministers.

There is already a separate joint proposal from the Guardian, the Telegraph and YouTube for the leaders to take part in an online debate to engage younger audiences.

The Green party says it is inexplicable for Ukip to be given a platform when it is the Greens who have had an MP for four years, and polled at a higher level for many years. The broadcasters point to the consistent high poll rating of Ukip, as well as its showing in the European elections.

Natalie Bennett, the Green party leader, told the Guardian: “We are deadly serious about taking legal action over this, and seeing how we can raise the necessary funds. The public want a serious debate in which they hear the full range of views, including a party that stands up against Ukip on immigration.” She said her party had proposed two debates involving the five parties and one between Miliband and Cameron.

Willard Foxton in the New Statesman agrees with the Green:

the people who are most shafted by the elevation of Ukip are the Greens. It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the Green Party has just as many real MPs as Ukip; they also have three MEPs and dozens of councillors. They are also (unlike the nationalists) a genuinely UK wide party, running hundreds of candidates nationwide; it’s worth noting the “Greens for Yes” were a sizeable part of the Yes campaign in Scotland.

It’s true the Greens aren’t riding as high in the polls as Ukip; however, they are frequently polling similar numbers to the beleaguered and despised Liberal Democrats. If polling numbers are what counts, why is Nick Clegg is allowed into a debate?

I disagree with both the comparison between the Greens and UKIP and the Lib Dems.

To take my own party first: saying that they are “frequently polling similar numbers to the…Liberal Democrats” is misleading. If we take the three polls published today, one did indeed have the Greens polling just 3% less than the Lib Dems. But this small ‘absolute’ difference is a big relative difference. It means the Greens would need to boost their vote by 60% to close the gap. And the other polls have the Lib Dems far ahead.

We of course also have a sizeable chunk of MPs and even if/when the projected drubbing materialises that will still be true after next May. There are simply too many constituencies where we are too well entrenched for even our present dire situation to put us in serious jeopardy. This is borne out by the fact that even after 4 and a half years of coalition, we still have 4 times as many councillors as the Greens and UKIP combined.

The Greens would have been in a much stronger position relative to UKIP before last week because they could at least claim to be the one with the MP. But Clacton changed that. And whereas UKIP have good prospects beyond their existing seat – such as South Thanet where Farage is standing – the Greens seem unlikely to win anywhere other than Brighton Pavilion and even that will be a challenge.

None of this means you couldn’t include the Greens in the debates. There’s a trade off between letting voters see a full range of options and how much space there is for debating the ideas of the parties who are involved. But a boundary does eventually have to be drawn somewhere. And as we’ve just seen there are good reasons to class UKIP (and indeed the Lib Dems) differently from the Green Party.

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One thought on “Having UKIP in TV debates does not mean the Greens should be there too

  1. That being said, the Greens also have a history of returning MPs (unlike UKIP). And UKIP increased their share of the vote dramatically in recent years, so it doesn’t particularly make sense to assume that the Greens cannot.

    I think part of the feeling behind this movement, though, is the bewilderment with the way the media have been consistently giving unbelievable amounts of coverage to UKIP for the past few years, in no way reflecting their popularity or vote share, which is seen to be connected with their sudden rise. They are consistently and (to most of us) inexplicably treated as being a serious political contender, whose views always needed to be considered, covered and discussed – and lo and behold, they seem to be becoming one. Meanwhile, parties with much more established history, existing MPs and traditions of being fairly strong in other European countries have never been offered a fraction of this coverage, reinforcing the sense that they are irrelevant and a wasted vote. This debate business is just an extension of the same phenomenon. You really can’t separate UKIP’s current popularity from its media share; they are inextricable.

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