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TV election debates Who rules the airwaves? A row over hearts and minds
Mar 19th 2010 | From The Economist online
PURISTS may object that the three planned televised debates pitting the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat leaders against each other are a shade too presidential for Britain’s parliamentary system. But for most voters, the chance to see Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg jointly quizzed, however circumspectly, in front of a real audience is an step up in democracy.
Not so in Scotland and Wales, though viewers pay the BBC’s licence fee there too. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and its Welsh sister, Plaid Cymru, object that they have been excluded. Their electorates will be subjected to a barrage of propaganda from other parties but will not be able to see how local leaders—Alex Salmond and Ieuan Wyn Jones—match up.
The three bigger British parties are scornful; neither nationalist has any hope of being prime minister, they say, even if they were Westminster parliamentary candidates, which neither is. But Mr Salmond and Mr Wyn Jones retort that they are both in government already in their devolved bits of Britain: the SNP runs a minority government in Scotland and Plaid Cymru shares power in Wales. The parties are fielding candidates in every Scottish or Welsh parliamentary constituency in the election expected on May 6th. The Lib Dems stand little chance of winning power, yet they are included. And Mr Salmond’s party regularly gets more Scottish votes and seats in Westminster elections than the Tories.
The three broadcasters that will carry the debates (BBC, ITV and Sky, with one encounter each), bound by rules on political impartiality, are taking the complaints seriously. As matters now stand, Scottish and Welsh voters will see 270 minutes of the three big-party leaders with no matching time for the nationalists. The broadcasters have offered to televise debates in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (though with local rather than national Labour, Tory and Lib Dem leaders) and to provide extra time on other news and current-affairs programmes.
This has not smoothed ruffled Celtic feathers. On March 17th Plaid Cymru proposed to the BBC that either their man should be allowed to make the occasional contribution from the audience in the main debates, or there should be a fourth leaders’ debate in the series, with Mr Jones and Mr Salmond alongside the other three. The SNP made similar suggestions last week.
The BBC seems unlikely to agree to these ideas, and so do ITV and Sky. Giving the nationalists what they want could open the door to demands from the Greens, the anti-Europe UKIP and the far-right BNP.
If so, the nationalists mutter darkly they may take legal action. They reckon that if the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation can host debates including the French-speaking leader of Bloc Québécois, despite the fact that his party stands only in Quebec, British broadcasters ought to be able to manage it.
The BBC is to hold separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and other parties will be able to respond to the debates on the news.
But for the SNP, Angus Robertson said: "London-based parties are going to receive exponentially more exposure and coverage than other political parties, I think licence fee payers and voters in Scotland will be asking themselves why they are being treated as second class citizens."
And Welsh Assembly member Elin Jones, for Plaid Cymru, said the debates were being set up "in a way that will mislead people into thinking that only the London parties are taking part in this election".
"In many constituencies in Wales, this election will be a two-horse race between Plaid Cymru and one other party, yet that will not be reflected in these debates," she added.
The sessions will be broadcast on weekday evenings, in the final three full weeks of the election campaign - exact dates will be decided once the prime minister calls the election, widely expected to be held on 6 May.
Party leaders will open with a one-minute statement, then take questions from the audience, studio and public via e-mail.
They will have a minute to answer the question, a minute to react, and four minutes of free debate.
All questions - those on the main themes, and those from audience members and via e-mails - will be selected by a panel of senior journalists.
Handshakes between the candidates will be restricted to the end of the programme.
A spokesperson for the joint broadcasting panel welcomed the agreement, adding: "We were delighted by the positive atmosphere in all our dealings with the parties over the last few months, and the agreement we are jointly announcing today represents a major step forward in the way election campaigns can reach the entire population."
The broadcasters have jointly appointed the market research company ICM to recruit an audience with a broad cross-section of views.
Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010
Timetable to Election 2010
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement that the Budget will be on 24 March has convinced most MPs that the general election will follow on 6 May. Assuming this is the case, here is the likely countdown to polling day.
WEDNESDAY, 24 MARCH - BUDGET
Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to spell out more details of public spending cuts and announce a modest increase in spending on jobs as a pre-election vote catcher.
TUESDAY, 6 APRIL - ELECTION DATE ANNOUNCED
After the long Easter weekend, Mr Brown is expected to announce the date of a general election as 6 May. He will already have gone to the Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament on 12 April.
THURSDAY, 8 APRIL - ADJOURNMENT OR PROROGATION
MPs and peers stop sitting in Parliament after traditional scramble by party bosses to see what legislation can be saved. Parliament continues to exist until it is formally dissolved the following Monday. After dissolution there are no longer any MPs, although ministers keep their jobs during the election campaign. Local returning officers receive election writs.
MONDAY, 12 APRIL - PARLIAMENT DISSOLVED
Parliament is formally dissolved and writs are issued for elections in the UK's 650 constituencies.
THURSDAY, 15 APRIL - TV DEBATE
ITV hosts the first of three 90 minute prime ministerial debates between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, which are likely to form the centrepiece of the campaign. The theme will be domestic affairs, although as with the other two debates it will broaden out into a general discussion with questions from viewers. Alistair Stewart is in the chair.
TUESDAY, 20 APRIL - REGISTRATION DEADLINE
Deadline for delivery of nomination papers/withdrawals of candidature/appointment of election agents at 1600 BST. Nominations announced at 1700 or as soon as any objections settled. Last day to apply to register to vote. Last day to apply for a new postal vote.
THURSDAY, 22 APRIL - TV DEBATE
Sky's turn to host the prime ministerial debate. Adam Boulton asks the questions and the main theme is foreign affairs.
TUESDAY, 27 APRIL - PROXY VOTES
Last day for receipt of late applications for people who cannot reach a polling station and want to vote by proxy (deadline 1700 BST).
THURSDAY, 29 APRIL - TV DEBATE
The BBC hosts the final of the three televised debates. David Dimbleby is in the chair and the main theme is the economy.
THURSDAY, 6 MAY - POLLING DAY
Election day, with polling stations open between 0700 and 2200 BST.
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Anger over rushed digital economy bill leads to online lobbying effort
38Degrees site becomes focus for demands that MPs consider unpopular bill more carefully
Posted by Charles Arthur Wednesday 17 March 2010 12.32 GMT guardian.co.uk
The rushed process of getting the digital economy bill through Parliament – it had its first reading in the Commons on Tuesday night, having just had its third (and final) reading in the Lords on Monday night – has prompted an angry groundswell of people using 38Degrees to lobby their MPs to block it.
The newly-created page on the 38Degrees site lets people find their MP via their postcode, and then email them to demand that the bill gets a proper debate - or is abandoned for this Parliament.
As the page puts it, "Peter Mandelson is rushing to force the digital economy Bill into law before the general eection. The draconian law is opposed by industry experts, internet service providers (like TalkTalk and BT), web giants including Google, Yahoo and eBay and even the British Library. Despite all this opposition, the government is trying to rush it through quietly just before the election without proper debate – without a chance for us to voice our opposition. Email your MP now and urge them to stop the government rushing this law through."
Surprisingly, the Tories, who oppose various elements of the bill such as the £6 per year "landline tax", seem minded to support the passage of the bill. [It doesn't; thanks all who have pointed this out - CA]
Tony Hirst of the Open University asks whether clause 97B - "The High Court (in Scotland, the Court of Session) shall have power to grant an injunction against a service provider, requiring it to prevent access to online locations specified in the order of the Court for the prevention of online copyright infringement" - could be used to block sites like Wikileaks (which after all exists for the reposting of material from organisations - which those organisations could argue is copyrighted). My reading is that it could - and it's no use government saying "oh, but we wouldn't". Bad law isn't made good law by not being used badly; it's made good by actually being well-drafted.
The question now is whether the 38Degrees action - and any other action that citizens take - will have as much effect as some of the lobbying groups.
As the 38Degrees page puts it, "There's plenty to oppose in the digital economy bill, it gives the government the ability to disconnect millions. Schools, libraries and businesses could see their connection cut if their pupils, readers of customers infringe any copyright. But one group likes it, the music industry. In a leaked memo a few days ago they admitted the only way to get the bill through would be to rush it through without a real parliamentary debate. Let's stop that happening."
Judging by the number of clickthroughs to the page (more than 3,000 at 12.20pm) and Twitter links to the page, this is proving a popular topic. The key question now: will MPs be listening, will they take action, and will that make any difference? It might be the sort of thing that could win you votes...
Budget date gives clearest signal yet of 6 May election
By Michael Savage and Sean O'Grady
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Gordon Brown has given the clearest indication so far that he has decided on a 6 May election, revealing that the Government will set out what could be its last Budget just two weeks before he formally asks the Queen to dissolve Parliament.
In a politically charged speech on the economy yesterday, made in the City of London, the Prime Minster confirmed that the Budget will be held on 24 March. It means that a snap election in April, which ministers had warned until recently could not be discounted, is now extremely unlikely.
Mr Brown signalled he was happy to place the characters of the party leaders at the heart of the election. In a throw-back to the "Not Flash, Just Gordon" slogan devised by ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi in 2007, Mr Brown distanced himself from the more polished image of David Cameron by telling his audience: "For better or for worse, with me what you see is what you get."
His Budget announcement has firmed up the key dates leading to election day. Mr Brown could ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament on Monday 29 March, after his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, but party officials are said to favour starting the campaign after the Easter break.
As a result, the most likely date for Mr Brown to head to the palace will be 6 April. That would allow for a few days of frantic activity, when the Government will attempt to push through as much of its outstanding legislative programme as possible. The formal election campaign would then begin on Monday 12 April, when the parties would launch their manifestos. For the first time, the campaign will also be punctuated by the three televised party leaders' debates, beginning in Manchester on 15 April.
It's time to show MPs what we think about the Digital Economy Bill.
As it stands now, the Bill, if passed into law, will allow disconnection, web blocking and could see the death of open wifi.
Come along to the ORG demo on Wednesday 24th March at 17:30 and protest against disconnection without trial and censorship on the Internet.
We'll have placards; just bring some black tape to gag or blindfold yourself.
Disconnection is a collective punishment. It is unacceptable, unfair and disproportionate.
The demo will be at Old Palace Yard (opposite Parliament, next to Westminster Abbey). Tell us you are coming by requesting a "ticket" - you don't need to bring this with you - we only want registrations so that we can contact you.
If you can't make it to London, why not set up your own demo? Choose a prominent place in your hometown; if possible, a local party HQ or MP constituency office, and let us know and we'll advertise it on our website.
So I have just got back from Victoria to see how things are progressing at campaign HQ and I have a few observations. Firstly. My desk. Seriously? I've seen smack dealers at Glastonbury operating out of plusher shitters than my "office". And when I put word about that I was not impressed, the other accommodation opportunity offered me by Dougie Alexander's strutting young spunk was the wireless password for a branch of Giraffe cafe in King's Cross. This is not remotely working for me.
What I suspect has happened is the frank tone of my first briefing (and the private one I sent you midweek, puckishly entitled: "Your campaign team eat the donkey dick") has put a few noses out of joint. Well, yes I'm going to give you tough advice. That is how I roll. My rule of thumb is: if you don't want to know about the tumour, don't ask to see the doctor. If you come to my suburban bondage establishment, I will knock you about and call you bad names. That's just the service I provide.
But please reassure the minions and old timers that I will be unobtrusive while I keep an eye on things. I will be crouching the other side of an invisible line, behind an imaginary Chinese wall inside a transparent box wearing a different hat, running a computer simulation of the current situation from behind an informal desk fellating a made-up banana. They are not to worry about me. Not until I creep up in the dead of night and hit them over the head with a piece of two-by-four with a single six-inch nail sticking out of it.
Anyway, on the themes you are starting to hit this week. I have some notes:
Optimism: Talking to the manifesto children in the war room, they are all very excited about optimism. I don't know where they found it but now they've opened the pot they want to smear it over everything. The New Britain. An Internet. A train like those we have seen on our holidays, that goes. A knowledge-based carbon-fibre tennis-racket economy. A windmill. A new dawn. Give our nuclear subs to the French. My take is – yeah, fine. Maybe. But remember your key attributes: not JFK skipping through the flowers spraying Clinton juice all over everyone. No – the glowering maniac in the boarded-up house who, if we're lucky, people might just about believe is the only one who can remember where the bank statements are kept. That's the core strategy.
Staying on: Re your Woman's Hour "I'll keep going" in the event of not securing a majority. It's obviously good to look permanent. The rock of ages. Continents move, elections come and go, majorities grow and wither, but you, the rock of ages, hard, impervious, massive, underlying, difficult to get tent pegs into, you remain.
That can obviously play well. But with the promise to stick around whatever happens, you need to avoid the whiff of the junta. We want people to think of you as a trustworthy if slightly cranky old professor they can go to in times of trouble. Like white-bearded Mr Shorofsky in Fame. We don't want the public to think that to get you out of No 10, Cracker is going to have to be called out of retirement to reason with you through a locked door as you squat on the cabinet table with no trousers on, Maggie Darling as a hostage, and a borrowed Glock 17 pointed at your own nuts issuing demands for a Government of National Unity. So careful how we play that one.
Clegg: This week's media angle has been: Clegg the kingmaker. Yeah, right. This guy couldn't make a king out of a two-piece Duplo "Make a King" kit without putting the arse on the head.
Also. In regard to Clegg, one good thing about you is that you do look like a person. We should keep pushing this. You don't have the Clegg/Osborne wipe-down plastic surface look. That lemon up the bum, orange in the mouth look the public so love to hate. Let's keep hitting that.
Jack Mcconnell, Labour’s former First Minister, has held secret talks about securing a role in an incoming Conservative government.
Mr McConnell met senior Tories, including shadow foreign secretary William Hague, where he was approached about taking an international post in a David Cameron administration.
SNP MSP John Wilson said the revelation showed Mr McConnell believed Labour was going to lose the upcoming General Election.
Mr McConnell’s six-year reign as first minister ended in 2007 after Labour lost the Holyrood election to the SNP.
The Motherwell and Wishaw MSP has since struggled to carve out a role for himself on parliament’s backbenches, instead pursuing opportunities on the international stage. Mr McConnell had been unveiled as the UK Government’s next High Commissioner to Malawi, a deal that has apparently fallen through.
He was also tipped for a berth in the House of Lords, but this also failed to materialise.
The MSP was then appointed by the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative to provide educational advice on Malawi and Rwanda, and also accepted a job as Gordon Brown’s special representative on “conflict resolution mechanisms”.
However, Mr McConnell attracted criticism for the envoy’s post after racking up a £70,000 globetrotting bill.
The Sunday Herald can now reveal that Mr McConnell discussed his options under a Tory administration at two meetings last year.
The first meeting, in Scotland with a senior Conservative official, touched on whether Mr McConnell could be appointed to a similar non-ministerial role if Mr Cameron became the next Prime Minister.
Mr McConnell then had a meeting with Mr Hague, regarded as the second most important figure in the shadow cabinet, at Portcullis House, near Westminster.
It is believed Mr McConnell and the shadow foreign secretary discussed the Tories’ approach to international policy, as well as the MSP’s future.
A senior Tory source said: “It is no surprise that the former first minister who has a real passion about international development is looking to life beyond this Labour government.
“David Cameron will always welcome people of talent, whatever their political background, if they are prepared to commit to the Conservative cause.”
The Tories would be willing to offer Mr McConnell a paid post in government, an outcome that would allow the Labour politician to stand down as an MSP in 2011.
Offering Mr McConnell an international role would also be seen by Mr Cameron as an example of “big tent” politics, where jobs are handed to high-profile figures aligned to other political parties.
This strategy was pursued by Tony Blair, who appointed Tory Chris Patten to a role in Northern Ireland, while Gordon Brown has also given jobs to Conservative MPs.
As First Minister, Mr McConnell brought in the ban on smoking in enclosed public places, as well as leading a clampdown on sectarianism and anti-social behaviour.
However, he is always likely to be remembered as the first Labour leader to lose a national election to the SNP.
Mr Wilson said: “This shows the lack of confidence Jack McConnell has in a Labour victory at Westminster. And once again, it undermines Gordon Brown’s leadership of the Labour Party.
“The voters of Motherwell and Wishaw are being reminded once again that they are being represented by a part-time MSP, who is happier to jaunt around the world than he is dealing with issues in his own constituency.”
A source close to Mr McConnell said: “Through his job in the foreign office, Jack regularly meets senior politicians from other parties to discuss his work with the UN in building democratic structures in war-torn countries.
“Building up democracy in countries can only be done effectively on a cross-party basis.”
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I only captured the end of the segment but the BBC mentioned something about a shredding company outside no. 10 / government departments and that the civil servants might be busily shredding documents over the next few weeks. Not much of a surprise. What may be related is that Channel 4 News said that the date that Parliament will be reconvened has been pushed back from an initial date of 12th May (although the BBC earlier mentioned that it was the 13th) to the 18th May. C4 inferred that this was down to civil servants' fears over a 'hung parliament', although perhaps the estimations of the shredding job have been pushed back, now that they've got started.
This post has been edited by amirrortotheenemy on Apr 6 2010, 08:09 PM
Group: J7 Forum Team
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Joined: 6-November 06
PM 'gets 18 days to form coalition'
Parliament may not reconvene for as long as 18 days following the general election if there is no clear winner, according to reports.
The 18-day period would provide a window of opportunity for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to try to form a working government with the help of smaller parties - even if Labour is not the party with the most seats.
Only after almost three weeks would MPs have to gather at Westminster for a motion of no confidence from the Conservatives, The Guardian said.
Speculation over the possibility of a hung Parliament prompted Mr Brown to commission the head of the Civil Service, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, to draw up a manual setting out officially for the first time the procedures to be following if an election does not produce a decisive result.
A chapter from the manual published by Sir Gus on February 24 made clear that, in the case of a hung Parliament, the incumbent Labour government and Mr Brown will remain in office until the Prime Minister tenders his resignation to the Queen.
Mr Brown is entitled to await the first meeting of the new Parliament to see whether he can command the confidence of the Commons, and is expected to resign if it becomes clear that he is unlikely to do so, said the manual.
"Where a range of different administrations could potentially be formed, the expectation is that discussions will take place between political parties on who should form the next government," said the document. "The monarch would not expect to become involved in such discussions."
Mr Brown could request a second dissolution of Parliament if he is unable to form a workable coalition, but the Queen is not obliged to grant it, especially when the request is made soon after the election.
She would "normally wish the parties to ascertain that there was no potential government that could command the confidence of the House of Commons" before granting a second dissolution and triggering a new poll. It is understood she would take into account the national interest and the prospect of a second election producing a clear-cut result.
The Cabinet Office said there had been no new guidelines drawn up since the chapter's publication last month but The Guardian reported that it has been agreed that, if necessary, Parliament may not be reconvened for as long as 18 days after the election, rather than the usual six, in order to provide time for a coalition deal to be forged.
Some possible reasons behind or outcomes over these fears of a 'hung parliament'
- Prepare the public mind for an event where a second election is called - There's been a lot of movement towards vesting greater powers, exclusivity of powers and responsibility unto civil servants, the recommendations on the COBRA committee for example, without obvious subservience to 'accountable' politicians. It was publicised that the stock markets fell when fears of a hung parliament were first articulated, which generates more of this 'parliament and politicians can't be trusted'. Although this mistrust is sometimes translated into:- that they should no longer hold these responsibilities (be held responsible). - It's part of several movements to further calibrate public opinion in favour of the party currently leading in the polls - To draw out the election process --, in which a COOP (Continuity of Government) / Civil Contigency situation arises and sustains -- every day between now and parliament reconvening could be a good day to bury bad news -- there's at least two legal precedents on the horizon that will escape scrutiny, protest and questions in parliament; secret inquiry to supersede the process of an inquest, the withholding of Government secrets from civil justice plus several persons awaiting extradition under the unjust extradition treaty with the USA - To further the gravitation towards political 'consensus', paving the way for another 'party of all the talents' - The BNP to win a seat in parliament; a hung parliament would probably allow a situation in which they would be courted by the various sides over voting on certain bills
Currently the unelected 'The Lord Mandelson' has accrued a lot of power and official responsibility for several Government departments whilst overseeing the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Kenneth Clarke, who has been very high profile of late, is his shadow. Clarke has turned down calls to be the Shadow Chancellor. The Lib Dem shadow is John Archibald Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso.
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