Excluding Greens from TV debates would make a mockery of democracy

UK broadcasters decision to exclude the Greens from the 2015 General Election debates has triggered a storm of protest, writes Josiah Mortimer. The numbers all show that the Greens deserve to be heard, but it's about more than that - the British people deserve the chance to engage in a new, progressive politics for the 21st century.
Next year's TV debates could be a slap in the face to millions seeking a progressive political voice. And politics will only be the worse off for it in an era of alienation and disenfranchisement.

There's a stitch-up being planned. One that could affect the outcome of next year's General Election in the UK.

The main broadcasters are planning to exclude the Green Party from the televised election debates in 2015 - while including Nigel Farage's UKIP, and the increasingly threadbare Lib Dems.

The decision was announced earlier this week, and it has rightly led to outrage from across the political spectrum. When you look at the figures, the plan to exclude the Greens becomes simply unbelievable.

Greens enjoy serious democratic representation

There are two ways in which broadcasters might reasonably judge whether a party should be take part in the election debates. First, by the level of representation the party enjoys.

The Greens have the same number of MPs as UKIP - one. The party has also held it for far longer than UKIP's Douglas Carswell, a Tory defector: Caroline Lucas won her seat in 2010 and has proved a formidable force in Parliament, and popular among the public.

We, including the Scottish Greens, also have two MSPs in the Scottish Parliament (that's two more than UKIP), and three MEPs (many fewer than UKIP's 24, but triple the Lib Dems' single member). The Greens also came third in the last London mayoral election.

In local authorities the Greens have 170 principal authority councillors across England and Wales, including two London Assembly members, and 14 councillors in Scotland. That's not as many as UKIP with its 357 councillors, but still an impressive number that demonstrates broad-based, nationwide support.

Visible popular support

The other reasonable way to judge whether a party should participate in election debates is to go by the level of support that seems likely in future elections, based both on recent election outcomes, and opinion polls. So how do the Greens shape up there?

In the European elections UKIP led the field with 27.5% of the vote. But the Greens came in fourth place with 7.9%, a whole percentage point ahead of the Lib Dems with their 6.9%. That 7.9%, incidentally, reflected the votes of 1,255,573 people across the UK.

As for the opinion polls for the 2015 General Election, many show the Greens level pegging with the Lib Dems, at around 5-7%. This follows monumental growth in membership over the past five years, including a 56% boost in 2014 alone to over 21,000 members, and 1,000 new members in the last week.

In short, all the numbers show that the Greens represent a broad, substantial, nationwide constituency of progressive voters that are turning out to support us in elections in growing numbers.

And in 2015, many more will have the change to vote Green, with the Party contesting three quarters of UK constituencies - up 50% from 2010.

A deliberate close-down of choice?

Next year's TV debates could be a slap in the face to millions seeking a progressive political voice. And politics will only be the worse off for it in an era of alienation and disenfranchisement.

But of course, the numbers don't say it all. What is really at issue is the exclusion of choice - an attack on the principle of democracy. If Farage appears without the Greens, what we will have are TV debates between four 'austerity parties' all battling over the same political ground. The phrase 'sham election' comes to mind.

Not only that, but it will be composed of four parties who all support fracking, back 'free trade' deals like TTIP that threaten health and environmental protections, who advocate either grossly insufficient measures to tackle the enormous reality of global warming, or (in the case of UKIP) deny it altogether.

Who else is to advocate Green policies like:

  • the return of our railways to public ownership?
  • the abolition of the UK's £100bn Trident nuclear weapons system?
  • a Living Wage for all, alongside plans for a national minimum wage of £10 per hour by 2020?
  • the scrapping of plans for a Hinkley C nuclear power station that looks like costing taxpayers and electricity customers over £30 billion?

Only the Greens are challenging the neoliberal 'free market' consensus of the 'grey' parties. And without a strong Green voice being heard in the debates, we will only have an establishment stitch-up. It's vital that the thousands, if not millions, of Green voters - or potential supporters - are represented. If not, can we really say we live in a democracy?

In short, without the Greens, there is no one to present an unequivocally pro-environment, pro-people viewpoint. Next year's TV debates could therefore represent a slap in the face to millions seeking a progressive political voice. And politics will only be the worse off for it in an era of alienation and disenfranchisement.

This isn't about moaning. We are not trying to deny UKIP or the Lib Dems their right to be heard. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who enjoy significant levels of support, should also be included. Democracy isn't just about who you vote for - it's about representation. That has to include Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If not, what kind of a union are we?

The new political reality must be recognised

Siobhan MacMahon, Co-Chair of the Young Greens, put it right when she said: "The obvious truth from the proposed TV debates is that broadcasters are struggling to adapt to the new political reality that we face in the UK, with five or more parties all staking legitimate claims to featuring in the debate.

"The Greens have been unfairly excluded from that process, despite receiving over a million votes in the European Elections and beating the Lib Dems into fourth place."

That's why the Young Greens - as well as calling for fair debates - are also leading the way calling for a series of youth debates among young party leaders from across the spectrum. With the Greens becoming the third party of young people, polling around 15% and doubling in size in 2014 alone, we are in a good place to pioneer such calls for experimentation in democracy.

The debates could be online - via newspapers, YouTube and other media - as well as on radio or TV. Nothing is written in stone. What is right is that they should happen. Young people deserve a voice too as those who will clear up the mess of the current lot in power.

Either way, the fact that over 168,000 have signed a petition calling for broader party representation on the TV debates shows just how strongly people feel. And they're going to be very angry if they are ignored.

And it's not just the poltically engaged that believe this. A YouGov poll showed that (excluding 'don't knows') 60% of voters agree that the Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett, should be included in the debates.

It's time the media and political leaders to wake up to the multi-party country we have become.



Josiah Mortimer sits on the national committee of the Young Greens.

The petition: Include the Green Party in the TV Leaders' Debates ahead of the 2015 General Election!