The Clegg/Farage head-to-head on Europe was a boon for democracy. We need the same before every election

While traditionalists say the virus of presidentialism is infecting our democracy, the TV debates at the last general election were long, serious affairs watched by millions

Share

Nigel Farage was acclaimed the winner of the head-to-head debate with Nick Clegg in the snap poll taken within 10 minutes of its ending. As a newspaper that supports the UK’s membership of the European Union, we are disappointed but not dismayed. As a newspaper that supports television debates as a boon to informed democracy, we are delighted.

More significant, perhaps, than the 57 per cent to 36 per cent advantage enjoyed by Mr Farage on the superficial question of who “won” was the small shift in opinion against Britain’s membership of the EU recorded by YouGov. Before the debate, YouGov found a six-point lead for those who want Britain to stay in the EU; afterwards, this advantage had shrunk to three points. It can only be hoped that, at next week’s rematch, the Deputy Prime Minister can tilt the balance the other way.

Whatever we think of the immediate outcome, however, we rejoice in the spectacle of serious debate about the nation’s future, engaged people and changing their minds. That is the essence of democracy, and that is why this debate, and the second next Wednesday, are so welcome. We are confident that ultimately the case for Europe is strengthened by being subjected to this democratic test. We are confident, too, that, while British opinion may have turned against the EU because of the economic crisis and the problems of the euro, it is turning back to a pragmatic recognition of where our national interest lies. In the past, it may have been that pro-Europeans shied away from debate and assumed that they knew best: no longer.

While traditionalists may mutter about the virus of presidentialism infecting our parliamentary democracy, the TV debates at the last general election were long, serious affairs watched by millions. They were a huge democratic advance compared with the usual coverage of election campaigns, often reduced to three-and-a-half-minute news items in which politicians were lucky to get a 20-second sound bite.

That is why it is so important to overcome the Prime Minister’s stalling and ensure that the TV debates happen again in the election campaign next year. Tactically, the broadcasters are right to stick to the simplest demand, which is to repeat the “three debates, three leaders” format. Democratically, however, the case for including Mr Farage is irresistible. The existing conventions, which put most weight on the number of each party’s MPs, are biased against change. Representation in the European Parliament, on local councils and in opinion polls should be taken into account as well.

Mr Cameron must not be allowed, however, to use the attempt to include Mr Farage as a way to obfuscate and to prevent agreement. The broadcasters should publish their proposals as soon as the European Parliament elections have been held. They should be able to secure the ready agreement of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip. The moral pressure on Mr Cameron should then be at its greatest: if agreement cannot be reached, it should be clear who has blocked it.

This week’s head-to-head is a reminder that TV debates between the main party leaders are an important democratic gain for which it’s worth fighting before every election.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future