Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has published a consultation paper which could have a major impact on different political parties' media coverage at this year's general election.
In good news for Nigel Farage's Ukip, Ofcom say they the party "may qualify for major party status in England and Wales for the General Election. If Ukip wins major party status, it will be extremely difficult for broadcasters to justify excluding them from TV debates.
The party has polled poorly at previous general elections, taking just 3.5 per cent of the vote in 2010 and failing to win a single seat.
Its performance has strengthened significantly since 2010, topping the polls in the European elections and beating the Tories in two Westminster by-elections. The party had a strong showing in the local elections of 2013 and 2014, winning 15.7 per cent and 19.9 per cent respectively.
According to opinion polls, Ukip is in third place in terms of popular support in England and Wales. However, it fails to enjoy similar levels of support in Scotland.
The granting of major party status would entitle Ukip to at least two party election broadcasts ahead of the election. Broadcasters covered by Ofcom's election rules include ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio.
In order to make a judgment, the regulator needs to account for the party's previous performance, as well as current opinion polls.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Green Party, whose popularity has increased in most opinion polls, will be bitterly disappointed by the regulator's initial conclusions.
Ofcom gave several reasons for not granting the Greens "major party status":
The party has not demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections. The Green Party has performed better in some other forms of election, such as the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, obtaining eight per cent and 8.1 per cent of the vote in England and Scotland.
In terms of evidence of current support, the party’s opinion poll rating in Great Britain-wide polls has increased in recent months to 5.9 per cent in December 2014 (Four per cent on average during 2014).
Green Party leader Natalie Bennet tweeted her reaction to the consultation:
Deeply disappointed by Ofcom draft: stuck in past, fails to grasp politics changing fast &ignoring views young voters http://t.co/RtxckmEo4B— Natalie Bennett (@natalieben) January 8, 2015
David Cameron will not be pleased with Ofcom's decision. If the TV debates actually happen, the Tories will be hoping for as many parties as possible on the platform to take away Nigel Farage's thunder. Tory MPs are already taking to Twitter to complain.
Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) January 8, 2015