Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, says Yes
Compared with other democracies, Britain has been extremely late to the party when it comes to TV debates. Voters around the world are used to hearing directly from party leaders in the run up to an election, and it gives them a chance to weigh up the options and come to a decision.
After 22m people watched the first TV debates in Britain in 2010, it would be a backward step for our democracy if there were no debates this year. This election is too close to call, and voters are expecting debates. It would be letting them down if the broadcasters and leaders were unable to agree a format.
The time for squabbling and tactical manoeuvres is over. The broadcasters have done a good job in trying to reflect the multi-party nature of modern politics while still giving time to hear from potential prime ministers. So there is really no excuse for the debates not to happen.
Andrew Hawkins, chairman of ComRes, says No
David Cameron argued for debates in 2010, pointing out that even Mongolia had them. Having thus ululated, he can hardly be surprised at people’s disappointment at watching him kill them off for 2015 – yet the calculated downside of taking part outweighs the brief opprobrium at chickening out.
In 2010, while the debates dominated the campaign, diminishing returns quickly set in and, by polling day, the impact on all parties except the Liberal Democrats had fizzled out. Leaders’ debates undoubtedly make elections more interesting, especially those with an elongated campaign. But their absence is not the end of the world: it might even force parties to get back to old-fashioned voter-focused campaigning.
Voters want to see the whites of politicians’ eyes. One-to-one engagement might just prove democratically healthier than the vicarious stage management of a TV studio.