When earlier this month proposals were unveiled for the 2015 election debates, the inclusion of Nigel Farage in the third debate, to be aired on ITV, sparked mixed opinions. Minority parties similar to UKIP in vote shares were outraged that one party was being given a platform when they were not.
Most vocal of these groups was the Green Party, whose leader Natalie Bennett, threatened legal action over their exclusion. The BBC’s response, seen by the Guardian, was written by Ric Bailey chief political advisor to the BBC, and justifies their position. Despite both UKIP and the Greens having an MP, Bailey argues UKIP have seen a substantial rise in support, as illustrated in numerous polls, unlike the Greens.
However, how accurate is this view? Over 200,000 people signed a petition stating the Greens should be given the same status as UKIP; a point Bennett was keen to stress. The BBC’s response, though, draws comparisons to the Liberal Democrats- and it is primarily on this point, that in my view, their argument falls down. Bailey claimed:
“The performance in elections of the Greens in relation to the Liberal Democrats has been mainly the result of the decrease in support for the latter as opposed to a significant increase in support for the Green party; opinion polls do not as yet demonstrate that the Greens have drawn level with the Liberal Democrats.”
So, let’s take a look at the polls. In a State of the Nation IPSOS MORI poll from early September, only 5% of participants said they closely identified with the Liberal Democrats, whereas the Greens were 2% higher. 43% said they “might vote” Green- again, five points ahead of the Lib Dems. Only today, a national opinion poll conducted by YouGov for the Sun, the Greens scored 1% higher.
It might not seem like a lot when compared with UKIP’s score of 17% (ten points higher than the Greens) but the real question is why are the Lib Dems being included in two of the three debates when they are consistently polling behind parties with only 1 MP, compared with their 57?
As Bennett said today the BBC is concentrating “too much on past performance rather than looking at current interest in the Greens.”
I couldn’t agree more. Politics in Britain is undergoing one of the greatest upheavals we have witnessed in recent times. The typical system of Labour, Conservative and the Lib Dem’s is no more. The norms are moving, and surely only parties who have a realistic chance of remaining in power or increasing their vote share should remain? By continuing to exclude the Green’s, a party which would bring some welcome diversity to an otherwise all male panel and actually has the potential to make an impact, the BBC is simply reinforcing the presentation of politics as an elitist arena. There is no doubt that the impact of the leader’s debates will be huge- but it is us, the public who should decide who to listen to and who to ignore.