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The opening of the first election debate of the 2010 campaign on ITV, 15th April. Photo: still from ITV.

This time, the green voice must be heard! Photo: the opening of the first election debate of the 2010 campaign on ITV, 15th April; still from ITV broadcast via youtube.

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The Green voice must be heard in Election 2015!

Rupert Read

9th January 2015

Ofcom's 'initial view' that the Greens should not take part in 2015 election debates is irrational and illogical, writes Rupert Read. Worse, it is an insult to democracy, all the more so as the Greens are the only UK party offering a genuine alternative to another five years of 'business as usual' neo-liberalism and austerity.

By whichever measure, the Green Party must be included in the general election debates! There is no way around this logic. The Ofcom decision is wrong.

Ofcom have made a provisional decision (technically it's called an 'initial view') to exclude the Green Party from the general election debates.

This is a shameful and irrational decision. For here is the central point about Ofcom's deliberations. There must - of course! - be consistent criteria for who gets included and who gets excluded from the debates.

If the criteria are backward-looking, looking based on what happened at the last General Election, then the Green Party must be included in the debates. For the Green Party got someone elected to Westminster - Caroline Lucas - at the last general election, unlike UKIP.

If the criteria based on current support, then the plain fact is that the Green Party have overtaken the LibDems in the polls. The Greens are consistently ahead now in Yougov results, which are the most regular polls by far: see their latest chart, showing the long-term trend, and now showing the Greens consistently ahead of the LibDems.

So, if the criteria are focussed on the present, once again, the Green Party must be included in the debates. This is the crux of the matter: if UKIP are a 'major Party', then so are the Greens, and that if the LibDems are a 'major Party', then so are the Greens.

Membership numbers - how's this for a 'surge'?

Another objective measure for Ofcom to apply would be member numbers. And here too the Greens have a story to tell. Latest figures show that our present membership has reached 31,492 in England & Wales, and close to 40,000 including Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That's level pegging with UKIP, which claimed 40,000 members in December. And it's slightly smaller than the LibDems, who reported 44,000 members in April 2014, trumpeting a "membership surge" with numbers rising by about 1,000 a year, a tad under 2.5%.

Now compare that growth rate to the Greens - our membership rose by an amazing 123% over 2014, and we have added 4,324 new members since the beginning of December - over the festive period when most peoples' minds are fixed on matters other than politics.

At this rate, we look set to overtake both LibDems and UKIP in short order. So by whichever measure, the Green Party must be included in the general election debates! There is no way around this logic. The Ofcom decision is wrong.

Let's add something else important: that the Ofcom decision is unpopular and undemocratic. A recent ICM poll showed that fully 79% of the British public wants the Green Party included in the debates.

Moreover, even key opponents of the Green Party want the Greens included in the debates. Sadiq Khan is running the new Labour anti-Green attack unit. Yet even he wants the Green Party included in the debates.

All credit to him for this: this is how democracy is supposed to work, by political opponents arguing with each other in public view; not by one Party being excluded arbitrarily.

Are there any good arguments against the Greens' participation?

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP, has already taken to Twitter to express his outrage: "it's a disgraceful, indefensible decision by Ofcom". And - most consequentially - David Cameron has already responded to the decision by insisting that he will not take part in the debates unless the Greens are included.

This will surely force the broadcasters to change their stance: for, if the cost of the Greens being excluded is that the debates don't happen at all, surely that cost will be one that the broadcasters are unwilling to pay.

But are there are any good arguments against the Green Party being regarded as a 'major party' suitable to be included in the debates?

The only one I have heard that has any 'legs' at all (though it is not one that Ofcom highlights, to my knowledge) is that the Greens, unlike the other Parties, are not going to be contesting some seats at the General Election.

In fact, the Greens are already committed to contesting three quarters of the 573 seats in England & Wales - that's 430 - and it looks like the Party may well end up contesting 80-85% of constituencies. In Cambridgeshire, where I'm the prospective Green candidate, we will have a full slate, and the same goes for neighbouring Norfolk and Suffolk.

Now, actually, we don't of course know that the other Parties will contest all 573 England & Wales seats at the General Election, though in 2010 they did come very close. But they will certainly not be contesting seats in Northern Ireland - where the Green Party, which exists in Northern Ireland (and has elected representatives) will be taking part.

The position is clear. The Green Party is a national party, and as the #GreenSurge rolls on, so the number of seats in which there will be no Green Party candidate standing gets smaller and smaller.

The threat of a genuine alternative?

And here's another couple of good reasons for including the Greens in the debates. The Green Party is the fastest growing political force in England - and, like the SNP, we are growing even faster in Scotland.

The inclusion of the Greens would make the debates so much more up-to-date and interesting ... Caroline Lucas MP or Natalie Bennett, one of whom would represent the Green Party in the debates, would not only be the only woman there, but the only one of the five parties offering a genuine alternative.

For example, the Greens are the only one of the five parties opposing TTIP (the massive EU-US trade and investment deal now under negotiation). We are the only party opposing nuclear power and the UK's 'Trident' nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

We are the only party supporting a Green New Deal as an alternative to endless economc austerity, promising to take the railways back into public ownership and to cut fares, opposing fracking and GM food and crops, supporting a Citizens Income and a Land Value Tax ... the list of Green USPs goes on and on.

If Ofcom stick to their bad decision, and if none of the broadcasters include the Green Party, then it undermines the democratic legitimacy of the debates. In that event, it will be essential for a high-profile 'alternative' or 'real' debate to be set up which includes the Greens, and I believe that that not only should but would happen.

But it would be far better if the broadcasters were to recognise the widespread groundswell of opinion among media-professionals, politicians and the public that the Green Party should be included in the debates that have already been planned, and to make this happen.

You can help to sway Ofcom's decision

Fortunately Ofcom's 'initial view' is not a final decision. They can yet change their minds. I hope that the upsurge of outrage against this terrible decision will be so huge that they will have no option but to do so.

You can help in that process: for instance, by sharing this article on social media and on email - and by telling Ofcom exactly what you think of their decision, on their stakeholder forum. They are consulting on their 'draft' decision, now.

I have bent over backwards in this article to be fair to Ofcom. But there is no way around it: they are blatantly being unfair to the Greens, and unfair to democracy as a whole.

Let rationality and the people's will prevail. Let the Ofcom decision be overturned, or let the broadcasters simply ignore that decision and make the 5-party debate happen - for, if the Greens are not there, then nor will David Cameron be, and there will then surely be no TV debates at all, this time.

It's really very simple: #InviteTheGreens to the general election debates ... If Clegg and Farage are there, then it is plain illogical to do anything else.

 


 

Rupert Read is the Green Party's prospective Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, and Chair of the Green House Think Tank, under whose auspices he recently co-authored a report on the state of democracy in an era of 5-party-politics: 'Strangled by the duopoly: the collapse of UK democracy and some prospects for its revival'.

 

 

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