The Election Debates in 2015: The View from the Living Room
Claire Emes and Josh Keith Introduction
The 2010 General Election saw the introduction of debates to a UK election campaign for the first time, with the leaders of the three main parties engaging in a trio of televised events during the final few weeks of election campaigning. Parties and pundits alike were eager to understand who had performed well, which messages had cut through and what impact this would have on the wider election campaign. Five years later, the political landscape and media environment may have shifted—resulting in a different debate format—but the desire to understand “the view from the living room” could be considered even greater than before.
In 2015, the perceived rise of the UK Independence Party and the after-effects of the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence called into question the three-party setup used for the 2010 debates. After drawn-out negotiations between the broadcasters and the UK’s major political parties, discussed in detail by Ric Bailey (see Chap. 18), it was finally agreed that televised debates would again take place. The shape of these debates was very different from those of 2010, with agreement eventually being
© The Author(s) 2017
D. Wring et al. (eds.), Political Communication in Britain, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40934-4_19
reached that just two formal debates would take place. The first of these, a seven-way “Leaders’ Debate” between the leaders of the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party, Green Party, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, took place on 2 April 2015, was hosted by ITV, and took place in Salford, Manchester. The debate programme drew an average audience of 7 million (BBC News 2015b). The second debate, the so-called “Challengers’ Debate”, took place on 16 April 2015 and was hosted in Westminster, London, by the BBC. This debate included just the five opposition leaders, excluding the leaders of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as members of the outgoing coalition government, and drew an average audience of 4.3 million (BBC News 2015a).
In addition to the televised debates, the leaders of both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party took part in televised leader interviews, with Jeremy Paxman, on 26 March 2015, whilst BBC Question Time on 30 April saw the leaders of the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats taking questions from a studio audience.