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Opinion: Unintended consequence from the election TV debates

25 March 2015 | analyst insight

LIBERUM OPINION: Ian Whittaker, Liberum Media Analyst

Email Ian or call him on: +44 (0) 20 3100 2089

David Cameron is the winner from the UK broadcasters’ climbdown from a plan to go ahead with TV election debates without him. The loser risks being the candidate most desperate for a one-on-one with Cameron – Ed Miliband.

Ian Whittaker

As I suggested on my post March 11, Cameron calculated that the broadcasters wouldn’t dare ‘empty-chair’ him because of commercial considerations, namely the renewal of the Royal Charter in 2016 for the BBC and the potential introduction of retransmission fees for the main commercial broadcasters for ITV, Sky and Channel 4.

He has forced the broadcasters to dance to his tune and they have made a tactical retreat disguised as a compromise. 

They have the PM on board but not in the format they want. 

ITV will be pleased at having the only debate with all seven leaders, which should draw in the audiences, if only for entertainment value. 

But all the programmes should help deliver substantial audiences, including the BBC’s featuring the five opposition leaders and no Cameron. 

And the losers? 

Nigel Farage has made his displeasure known and, given Ofcom granted UKIP major party status, he is unsurprisingly aggrieved that he was not invited along to the special BBC Question Time. 

The biggest loser, though, is Ed Miliband. No head-to-head with Cameron ends his chance to significantly boost his poll ratings.

His decision to take part in the opposition leaders’ debates looks incredibly risky. 

All four of his opponents (the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and Green) see Labour as an attractive source of new recruits. 

None are really competing against each other. And that leaves Labour as the common enemy. 

When are the debates taking place?  

This Thursday, 21:00: Channel 4/Sky News live Q&A with Cameron and Miliband separately

2 April: ITV: Debate with seven party leaders

16 April: BBC: Opposition debate with five opposition party leaders (Miliband, Farage, Sturgeon, Bennett and Wood) 

30 April: BBC: a Special Question Time with Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, presented by David Dimbleby.

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