TUSC call to media (and the Greens): why not a 'minor parties' debate?
Steve Bell's Guardian cartoon on the party leaders' TV election debate row that flared up in the New Year was typically pointed. It depicted the four austerity party leaders in a line - Cameron, Farage, Clegg and Miliband - with the Greens, in a dig at Cameron's previous 'cut the green crap' comments, an unpleasant presence for them all (see gu.com/p/44q9f/tw).
But actually Steve Bell has it slightly wrong. The real 'unmentionable' in the media coverage of the election so far, including the 'debate about the debates', isn't the Greens. While even the Pub Landlord gets some coverage for his election challenge, the party that will be fielding the sixth biggest number of candidates across Britain in the general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), has not had a single mainstream media reference once this year. We will have to campaign for our right to be heard.
A debate of a different type
Back in December the TUSC national steering committee sent a letter to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett (see below) adding its support to the demand that the Greens be included in the leaders' general election debates.
But we also suggested a joint campaign for a televised debate of a different type - involving all those parties that reach the threshold for a party election broadcast (standing in one-sixth of the seats up for election in England, Scotland or Wales) but that could not reasonably be seen as contenders to form a majority government. This would mean the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cmyru, and... TUSC.
Unfortunately Natalie Bennett has not replied to our letter. And The Guardian refused to print a letter making a similar proposal from the former Labour MP and now national TUSC chairperson, Dave Nellist (also below).
The BBC's former editorial director says that all "those who are willing to put themselves on the line" should be able to participate in the debates. The Guardian writes editorials urging a "fight for the right to have debates" (January 15th). Yes, but obviously not with socialist trade unionists who will put a real alternative to the austerity consensus.
1. Letter to Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, 18th December 2014
I am writing on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee to add our support to your campaign for fair media coverage in the 2015 elections of the alternatives to the establishment austerity consensus.
You may be aware that TUSC, co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, is aiming to stand widely in 2015. We plan to surpass the 560 council candidates we stood in this year's local elections and to reach the broadcasting authorities' political election broadcast (PEB) qualifying threshold of around 100 candidates for the general election.
Standing this number of candidates - giving TUSC the sixth biggest presence on the ballot paper - will, inevitably, entail electoral clashes between our parties. Indeed TUSC, as a declared socialist coalition with a commitment to refuse to implement the cuts in local councils as in parliament (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy ), would not seek to underplay the political differences between us. But we do share your indignation at how the media's political coverage is slanted, exemplified in the promotion of UKIP in the proposed leaders' debates, at the expense of other alternatives.
We unequivocally support your participation on behalf of the Green Party in the leaders' debates planned by the BBC, ITV, C4 and Sky. But we would also like to propose that the Green Party and TUSC make a joint approach to the broadcasting authorities for an additional televised debate of a different type.
This would be for parties that reach the PEB candidates threshold but are not contenders to form a majority government - a 'Championship debate', to use a football analogy, rather than a Premier League contest, without Cameron and Miliband. Such a format would meet the criteria that you rightly set out in your recent letter to ITV that general election debates should not simply be "to hear the prime minister and the leader of the opposition debate, but to hear the views of a broader range of party leaders, representing the range of parties standing large numbers of candidates across the country".
We would be very pleased to meet with you to discuss this proposal - or any other suggestions you may have for how we could work together to challenge the media's pro-establishment bias.
We look forward to your reply.
TUSC national chair
2. Letter to The Guardian, 9th January 2015
I am writing to add the support of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to Natalie Bennett's campaign for fair media coverage in the May elections ('Cameron's Green protest may black out TV election debates', 9 January 2015).
TUSC, co-founded by the late Bob Crow, is aiming to stand widely in 2015 with 100 candidates for the general election and around 1,000 in local authority seats, giving us the sixth biggest presence on the ballot paper.
We share Natalie's indignation at how the media's political coverage is slanted, exemplified in the promotion of UKIP in the proposed leaders' debates, at the expense of other alternatives.
In unequivocally supporting Natalie's participation on behalf of the Green Party in the leaders' debates, we would also like to propose an additional televised debate, of a different type.
This would be for parties that reached the threshold for a party election broadcast, but are not contenders to form a majority government. A 'Championship debate', to use a football analogy, rather than a Premier League contest - in other words without David Cameron or Ed Miliband.
Such an innovative format would meet the criteria Natalie set out in a recent letter to ITV, that TV debates should not simply be "to hear the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition debate, but to hear the views of a broader range of party leaders, representing the range of parties standing large numbers of candidates across the country".
Perhaps in a spirit of seeking wider debate in the run-up to the election, especially from those holding anti-austerity views, the Guardian might support such a suggestion, or even agree to host a similar debate itself?
National Chair, TUSC