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Should Nick Clegg feature in all three election debates?

CameronCleggBrown Well ahead in the polls, the Conservative Party does not have much to gain from election debates but I have enough confidence in David Cameron's abilities to believe that he'll be good enough to win them.

Cameron's task isn't helped, however, by polls suggesting voters expect him to win and to win big. Well before any debates get underway there'll be a need for some expectations management from CCHQ.

In between the Labour and Conservative Conferences Britain's three principal broadcasters agreed a proposal for three debates between the three party leaders - each one transmitted by a different broadcaster. At the time I blogged my concern at the publicity boost that this could give Nick Clegg.

Now that most of us are back at our desks I have set up a vote to test grassroots opinion on the matter.  I think there should be (at least) one head-to-head debate between the two men likely to be Prime Minister, excluding the Liberal Democrat leader.  He could have a right-of-response on a post-debate programme.  A right-of-response (in less substantial form) should also be available to representatives of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP etc after all of the debates.

There would be legal difficulties if the Brown V Cameron debate took place after the Queen had dissolved Parliament but broadcasters are not subject to such strict rules on 'balance' before then.

For the record, Jonathan Isaby disagrees with me. With all three leaders signed up in principle he fears that attempting to exclude Nick Clegg risks scuppering the whole process. That wouldn't bother me.  One of his arguments for including the Lib Dems in every debate is that they have parliamentary representation and fight every single seat across Britain.  That seems to justify them being involved in one or two debates but not all three.  Jonathan also writes:

"Involving Clegg in the debates would force him to address the questions about what he would do in the event of a hung Parliament (questions which he seems set on evading and doing so in such debates will surely only make him look foolish); and it would also force him to set out a national message, which would cause headaches for him and his candidates as they so often put out different messages in different constituencies around the country. To those who are concerned about a three-way debate boosting the Lib Dems at the expense of the Conservatives, look at what happened in London last year: Brian Paddick (remember him?) was involved in the debates with Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone - and got less than 10% of the vote."

What do people think?  Vote here and comment in the usual way below.

Tim Montgomerie


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