Tweet The idea of holding debates between the leaders of the parties at election times has been mooted for many years; I can't say that I'm surprised that it's finally going to happen. That doesn't mean that I'm exactly happy about it either.
It works well in the US because the people are actually electing a president when they vote; in the UK, we are not. We are electing a legislature from which a government is subsequently chosen, and the number of people who can actually vote directly for any of the leaders is very limited.
I'm quite open to the idea of holding separate elections for the government and the legislature. There are a whole series of details which would need to be resolved (not the least of which is that it would make changing a prime minister without a new election rather more difficult), but the idea has a number of advantages. However, simply grafting on a presidential style debate to a legislature based election brings a series of problems of its own.
Clearly, the choice of UK prime minister at the next election boils down to only two people, and if we were able to vote directly for a prime minister, I could see that benefit of having a debate between those two. But what is Clegg doing there? He has, to be blunt, no more chance of being the next UK Prime Minister than does Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid's parliamentary leader. I know it, the broadcasters know it - and even Clegg knows it.
It might be argued that the Lib Dems are fighting enough seats to be able, theoretically, to form a government if they won enough. But what if the Greens, or the BNP or UKIP then field enough candidates - do they get to be included?
It might also be argued that, in the event of a hung parliament, the third party would have a degree of influence beyond their numbers, so that people should know where they stand. But there's no reason to assume that the Lib Dems will be the third largest group. It's perfectly plausible that a 20-strong Plaid/SNP group would have just as much influence; everything depends on the final numbers of MPs.
In short, I can see no rational justification to include Clegg which could not also be used to justify the inclusion of a number of other possible leaders. And conversely, the basis on which others have been excluded could also be used to exclude Clegg.
The whole thing is a stitch-up by the broadcasters and the establishment parties. Nothing new there, then.
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