Letter: Law backs Ashdown on TV debate

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The Independent Online
Sir: In accepting the offer of a televised presidential-style debate involving John Major and Tony Blair, the Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, has made clear that he does not want Paddy Ashdown to be involved. I can understand why, as it is the Liberal Democrats who pose such an obvious threat to Conservative MPs in a large number of marginal seats.

However, Dr Mawhinney clearly thinks he can ignore the law on this issue. In Scotland, in April 1995, John Major's Panorama broadcast was delayed until the close of polls in our local elections because it was considered to confer an unfair advantage. The principle here is the same: any debate must involve the leaders of all three main parties.

The objections of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru could be accommodated by staging equivalent debates between their leaders and the respective Scottish and Welsh spokesmen of the main UK parties. Since neither of these parties puts up candidates in England there is no need for these debates to be broadcast there.

Obviously the format would reach daft proportions if the Green Party, the Natural Law Party, the UK Independence Party, the Referendum Party and the Pro-Life Alliance all insisted on participation, although doubtless Sir James Goldsmith could fund his own legal challenge.

Nevertheless, the principle remains. No matter how much Tony Blair agrees with John Major these days, it is not up to them to abolish the other opposition parties. Fairness and election law both require the Liberal Democrats' presence.


Scottish Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley