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Monday 14 March 2016

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As TUSC candidate numbers grow a battle looms for 'fair media coverage'

Over 100 candidates have now been approved by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee for the English local council elections taking place on Thursday May 5th. The full list of the candidates agreed so far is at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/369.pdf

But as the candidate numbers grow a battle is looming with the broadcasting authorities over TUSC's right to 'fair media coverage' in this year's elections.

As in previous elections the BBC's Chief Political Advisor, Ric Bailey, acting for all the broadcasting organisations, has set the qualification criteria for allocating a Party Election Broadcast (PEB) as "a party standing candidates in at least one sixth of the seats contested".

This year however there is an unusually high number of councils that are holding 'all-up' elections where every councillor is to be elected. This includes councils that are abolishing annual elections, in a shameful erosion of democracy, to move to elections held once every four years.

This means that there are substantially more councillors to be elected (2,742 in 2,171 wards) than there were in the equivalent elections in 2012.

One-sixth, one-thirteenth, one-fifth...

So should the 'fair coverage' threshold be calculated as the number of wards in which a party has at least one candidate standing (one-sixth being 362) or the number of councillors to be elected (one-sixth in this instance being 457)?

In 2014 Ric Bailey defended the broadcast media's virtual boycott of TUSC by writing that "part of the logic of the threshold is that to justify coverage on UK-wide outlets, a significant proportion of those watching or listening should have the opportunity to vote for the party concerned". So this time it should be one-sixth of the wards then, as they are a geographical and population-based unit?

But no, despite protests from TUSC, the threshold proposed is for 457 candidates. One anomaly this creates is that the threshold could be reached by contesting seats in just eight of the 'all-up' councils, covering just one-thirteenth of the wards - and their 'viewers and listeners' - that have local elections this year.

On the other hand, a party that decided to just contest one vacancy per ward would have to stand in 457, or over one-fifth of the wards with elections this year.

...or is it, just not TUSC?

In our appeal to the broadcasting authorities we have explained that the TUSC national steering committee expects that in wards where more than one councillor is to be elected, the local TUSC group would in many cases positively wish not to stand for every councillor vacancy.

This is because of the new political situation that has been created by Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader on an anti-austerity message.

TUSC is prepared to use the ballot box to put pressure on councillors who vote for cuts - whatever their party label. But we will not be standing against Labour councillors who vote against cuts in the council chamber or Labour candidates who give that pledge. The BBC's ruling to maximise councillor vacancies over wards doesn't take into account 'the new politics'.

How many parties will be affected by how the 'one-sixth' criteria is interpreted? Just TUSC, of course, as the Tories, Labour, UKIP, Lib Dems and the Greens will be well over the threshold while no other party will get anywhere near.

A political decision

The BBC has always been quick when it responds to TUSC's complaints to pretend that political considerations play no part in their decisions.

In our complaint to Ric Bailey in 2014, for example, we mentioned that TUSC was fielding "the biggest left-of-Labour challenge in local elections for 60 years".

But as TUSC hadn't reached the one-sixth threshold, he replied, not a significant enough proportion of viewers and listeners would be able to vote for you. "The nature of each party's political perspective (with reference to your point about TUSC being 'left of Labour') cannot be an influence in making impartial editorial judgements". This year, however, obviously on strictly 'impartial editorial' grounds, geographical spread is no longer important.

Still time to beat the boycott

In reality the main 'criteria' for the media elite - a vital part of the capitalist establishment - is not to allow the voice of trade unionists, socialists and working class community campaigners to be properly heard.

TUSC's local elections campaign message is to build on Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity call - to fight for a councillors' revolt that could stop the Tory cuts.

And with four weeks to go before nominations close there's still time to get that onto our screens.

Future candidate approvals

The next date for candidate applications to be received for consideration by the steering committee is Wednesday 16th March. The candidate application form can be found on the TUSC website at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/358.doc and there is a Guide for TUSC Candidates and Agents available as a downloadable PDF at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/359.pdf