Dramatic and hilarious developments about a leaders debate in the forthcoming UK general election. Sky News have broken ranks with other broadcasters to secure a leaders debate, their redoubtable Political Editor Adam Boulton has just told Radio 4s Media Show. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed and there will be a podium for Gordon Brown if he chooses to occupy it. This is a clear high stakes gamble to bounce Gordon Brown. Id give evens that itll work.Would the other leaders go ahead debating with each other without Brown? Or leaders debates might in the end happen but not under Skys control. But then Sky may be expecting this all along and would be prepared to settle for a share but not control of a series of debates.
Right now, the cool move has infuriated Downing St and the other broadcasters who thought they were in joint negotiations with the parties, next meeting, Friday. Sky is accused of staging a publicity stunt. Boulton denies this gleefully. There is no longer a veto in electoral law over these debates. We dont see this as breaking ranks. Others can take it live. If our slightly tough line results in a series of leaders debates, we dont expect to take all of them. ( He seems to mean here, debates with the Scottish and Welsh parties. NI parties have always been separate).
Ric Bailey the BBCs chief political adviser pointed out that it was really easy to set up a debate with the opposition leaders. Tactically, the best way is for broadcasters to act jointly. It should not be made into a campaign for a debate. The unfazed Boulton replied : Thats precisely what we are prepared to do to have a debate about the debate and invite people to sign our Petition for a Debate. We’re not the BBC. ( too right).
All good, (fairly) clean political fun. I hope it works, in some form.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London