TV Debates Change Britain's Politicking
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And now let's go to another European country loaded with debt - Great Britain. Leaders of the three main parties there wrapped up their historic televised debates last night. With less than a week to go before a general election, it's clear the debates have had a major impact on Britain's political landscape. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.
ROB GIFFORD: It was supposed to be a debate focusing on the economy, but once again it was the subject of immigration and whether to place caps on it that dominated.
NICK CLEGG: Is it, am I right or wrong that 80 percent of people who come here come from the European Union and your cap would make no difference to that whatsoever. Is that right, yes or no?
DAVID CAMERON: We have said...
CLEGG: Yes or no?
CAMERON: ...new EU countries should have transitional controls. We all remember what happened when Poland joined the European Union.
CLEGG: Yes or no?
CAMERON: We were told 13,000 people would come. And, in fact, it was closer to a million.
GIFFORD: The analysts seemed to agree there was no clear winner last night. The revolution in that respect had already happened in the first two debates, with the emergence, as a voice for change, of Nick Clegg - the third party candidate. Roy Greenslade is professor of journalism at City University in London.
ROY GREENSLADE: It's quite clear that the televised debates have changed the whole political agenda this time around. So it's now a three-horse race instead of a two-horse race, which changes the whole nature of the election and has been caused, totally, by these TV debates.
GIFFORD: For many ordinary people, the TV debates have also proved a breath of fresh air, enabling viewers to listen directly to the candidates for themselves. Clive Benden(ph) is sitting out reading a book in his lunch hour in West London.
CLIVE BENDEN: I think it's a very good idea, because what they do is, in the past, the debates have mainly been the realm of the newspapers, the press. And they usually are fairly partisan of one party or the other. And this time, the press is actually being overtaken, I think, by television.
GIFFORD: Polly Toynbee of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper says the long-term legacy of the debates could well be political reform to a more proportional system.
POLLY TOYNBEE: Until you had the equal chance for the third party in a television debate, we had a quite disproportionate result. Before, people didn't mind too much, because the unfairly treated party was a small party. But once you get maybe nearly a third of voters trying to elect the party that then gets a tiny number of seats, I think there will be a real sense of indignation, and people will understand exactly how distorting our electoral system is.
GIFFORD: Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.
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