Why it makes sense not to include the DUP in the TV Debates

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February 4, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith

It is not hard to see validity in the DUP’s claims for a place in the Party leader debates in the upcoming general election campaign. First of all, they are the fourth largest party in terms of seats, with eight of them at the moment. Second of all, there is quite a large chance that they will play a part in forming a Government after the election, as they should have between eight and ten seats to offer, and that could push either Labour or Conservatives over the magic 323 mark. David Cameron and Ed Miliband have suggested that the DUP should be included although that could be related to my previous sentence. So really, you could argue that the UK public need to hear from them, so they can learn about the potential Kingmakers.

But Tony Hall – Director General of the BBC, disagrees, and has written to the DUP to tell them so. He has said, in his letter that his decision does not break the BBC’s duty to be politically impartial. The DUP are not happy about this, with their leader, Peter Robinson, tweeting a question about the validity of Hall’s reasoning.

But Tony Hall’s reasoning is correct. The DUP argue that if the ‘other’ parties that can only be voted for in their country like the SNP and Plaid Cymru are included, then they should be. But there are two problems with this:

1) The SNP and Plaid Cymru are the only parties in their country other than the main UK political parties that can be voted for with a realistic chance of getting any seats. If the DUP are invited, then Sinn Fein (5 seats) and the SDLP (3 seats) would also need to be invited, as the way the Northern Irish vote mean that they are almost guaranteed to have a similar number of seats after May 7th, and could also be involved with Government negotiations.

2) Linked to that is that SNP and Plaid Cymru are campaigning against the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP. So it makes sense for the UK public to see them argue their case against them, even if only a small proportion of the public can actually vote for them. People have to decide whether to vote for them or for the ‘National’ parties. This is not so for the DUP, who campaign against Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and UUP. So there is nothing to debate about with the ‘National’ parties.

The upshot of all this is that the DUP and other Northern Irish parties are now threatening to go down the legal route to getting into the debates, which could mean all agreement on them being delayed, possibly fatally.

Which would probably explain why David Cameron is supporting their application!

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