Letter: Format choice for electoral TV debates

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tony Hall (chief executive, BBC News) and Anne Sloman (chief political adviser to the BBC) have written a thoughtful and, from my perspective, generally accurate account of the negotiations for a leaders' TV debate during the election ("The televised debate that never was", 2 July).

However, in the doubts they express as to whether the parties really wanted a debate they may have done less than justice to the Liberal Democrat position. We regarded such a TV debate unequivocally as an enhancement of democratic understanding and participation, and have long thought it should form a part of British general elections.

Where we were not happy was at the original proposals for the exclusion of Paddy Ashdown from face-to-face participation alongside Tony Blair and John Major, particularly since equivalent debates in other countries readily include three or four party leaders. Even there we were prepared to compromise to some extent, as the authors related.

As to the future, they are surely right to urge consideration now on the basis of format and participation next time. The public interest should not be subordinated to the shifting needs of partisanship. The broadcasters and party representatives alike should put their heads together in the early years of this Parliament, possibly under the aegis of a non-partisan body such as the Hansard Society, to see if there is a better way forward than frantic last-minute horse-trading.

Lord HOLME of Cheltenham

House of Lords

London SW1

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