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"I agree with Nick" - a relevant debate

Posted by
12 Jan 2015
For anyone who watched the inaugural televised election debates on the BBC, ITV and Sky between David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg in 2010, they may remember from the first encounter the number of occasions during the evening that Gordon Brown said “I agree with Nick”. The debates were believed by many to have made the fundamental difference for the Liberal Democrat’s campaign, ultimately resulting in the largest gains in the party’s existence and a coalition opportunity with the Conservatives.

Fast forward five years the political parties and national broadcasters are once again organising the dynamics of the next live election debates, due to take place prior to the national election on 7 May. The breaking news last week was that David Cameron stated that he will only take part in the debates if the Green Party are also involved following the announcement by Ofcom agreeing to UKIP taking part given their European election successes, and two bi-election victories of late.

Cameron’s stance is an interesting one. Politically the Tories were damaged by the Lib Dems exposure during the 2010 debates and they have calculated the UKIP pitch is likely to threaten their support once again, but this time from the right. Cameron wants a minor ‘left leaning’ party to split the Labour and Liberal Dem stand point over the course of the three debates. Overtly all very political and contrived and as ever the responses from Clegg, Miliband and Farage have been highbrow, calling him a “chicken”; “running scared” and “spineless”.

With all this political wrangling, I can’t help but wonder if the general public really care about the debates or if it is just the media and the Westminster bubble getting itself into a lather over the impending no show. At Sellick Partnership we employ about 70 people, a quick e-mail to everyone in the business asking the question “Did you watch any of the original debates in 2010 between Cameron, Brown and Clegg?” came back with roughly a 50/50 split between Yes and No.

Historically, electoral turnout at UK General Elections has diminished from around 85% to nearer 60% in recent years, (though of course the Scottish referendum turnout in September was 84.59%), and even though smaller parties like the SNP and UKIP are on the rise, are the wider general public bothered if Cameron attends or not? If I were Miliband or Clegg, I would be delighted over Cameron’s exclusion, and spend time maligning his decision not to debate.

In the end it’s unlikely that the Greens will have an involvement in the main television debates, but will Cameron stick to his guns and not attend? I wonder. It could be an open goal for the Lib Dems given the Coalition will be in the last days of its existence, and exposure for Clegg without Cameron could be some damage limitation for him personally, as well as the party.

As a keen followers of politics, I can see the Lib Dems losing seats come 7th May – but I have no doubt that the other two major parties are all going to face very, very uncertain times on the night as well!

What do you think? Do you think the debates made an impact during the last election and are they likely to again? Let me know your thoughts…

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