Thursday, 8 January 2015

Asking the Wrong Question - Cameron and The Greens

Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator for the UK yesterday morning decided effectively to bar the Greens, the one anti-austerity UK-wide party, from any significant TV and radio coverage at the General Election this May. But by the evening the Green Party unusually and ironically found itself in the national TV headlines after Prime Minister David Cameron said he would refuse to take part in the Leaders' debates on TV unless the Greens were included.

This is not news as such - Cameron first said this back in the summer when the BBC and other broadcasters issued a proposal for three debates in the run up to the polls, one of which would include UKIP but none the Greens. Ofcom's ruling covers not only the debates but all broadcast media - TV and radio news programmes and party political broadcasts in particular.

Ofcom's convoluted reasoning holds that UKIP is a major party deserving of coverage while the Greens are not. Hence we will have four pro-austerity, neoliberal parties covered, more than ever creating an illusion of choice for voters which bears just more of the same in reality. The Greens, who oppose austerity and campaign for greater equality would provide the only different narrative in any debate.

Cameron is not, of course, staking out his position for reasons of principle and fair debate, although unsurprisingly this is the argument he claims. With UKIP rising until recently largely at the Tories' cost, he has calculated that a Green presence would counter that any damage Nigel Farage inflicted on the Conservatives by the Greens impacting on Labour and the Lib Dems. Alternatively, with him as the incumbent, he knows that he is more vulnerable to attack from other leaders and so may be quite content to not have any debates while posing as a champion of fairplay.

So, all day, the media have been interviewing his confirmed opponents for the debate - Farage, Miliband and a rather hysterical Clegg (who briefly soared after the first "I-agree-with-Nick" debate last time). Why, they keep being asked, do they think Cameron is doing this? And of course, without exception, they say that he is keen to avoid the debates altogether and using the Greens as an excuse.

A more interesting question might have been to ask each of them for their reasons for not wanting the Greens to have a place. Why don't they just call Cameron's bluff and agree to have the Greens take part? Why won't they debate with the Greens? 

After all, the Greens had an MP four years before UKIP won their first one (a Tory defector who stood again in his own constituency as UKIP). Greens outpolled the Lib Dems across the UK at the European elections last May and won 3 MEPs to the Lib Dems' one. They reached 10% in the opinion polls before Christmas, one point ahead of Clegg's party and just three per cent behind UKIP - they are particularly popular among younger voters and are in second place to Labour among students. In Scotland, there are now more Green Party members than individual members of the Scottish Labour Party, while nationally 40,000 people are members of the Greens -possibly slightly more than UKIP and just 4,000 behind the Lib Dems' last declared membership figures. Nearly 300,000 people signed a petition calling for the Greens to be invited on the leaders' debates, while opinion polls show that about 4/5 of voters want them on, with clear majorities among supporters of all parties.

Greens - on rise among students, and everywhere else
So, who is really frit of the debates? Cameron maybe. But, in the absence of any other explanation or view being offered (aside from Paddy Ashdown's absurd claim that a fifth leader would confuse the voters!), Clegg, Miliband and Farage are clearly scared too - scared of a party that stands for the opposite of the dead, elitist agenda they offer. Because, in the end, bar a bit of tinkering here and there, these neolib quadruplets all offer pretty much the same - Britain PLC as a profit-seekers, privatised paradise, its people reduced to low wage service drones. All of them, in the end, have one purpose - to serve the interests of an ever smaller, ever richer and ever more bloated elite at the top of our society.

Noam Chomsky's warning has never been more appropriate: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

So, all four of the men (and they are all men) who lead the neoliberal parties are playing a game. None of them, Cameron included, really want the Greens, or other truly different parties, to be heard. Rather, the PM hopes to have no debates at all while his rivals want ones that minimise their other competitors.

No one has asked them the questions that really matter. But then that's not news. Nor is it any surprise at all.

But we can make our views known and voices heard. Ofcom's decision is open to challenge via a consultation process now underway. You can comment by emailing them via  or phone them on  0300 123 3333 . The process runs until 5 February. Tweet your views as well using the hashtag #invitethegreens. Similarly, to call for the leaders' of the nationalist parties to be invited too, sign on to #leadersdebates and #fairdebate2015 .

And, whether the decision is changed or not, our fading Establishment can know that one more mask has been peeled away and one more column chipped a bit more deeply as the facade they put up for British democracy slips yet further into its terminal decay.

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