Background to the prime ministerial debates

A confidential memo circulated well ahead of the current prime ministerial election debates has been leaked.

MEMO from the Joint BBC/ITV/SKY Political Special Projects Working Group.

Subject: Proposed Televised Debate Featuring Three Main Party Leaders During General Election Campaign.

Serious consideration should be given to alternative means of presentation than the agreed three-men-in-a-studio format.

One possibility we have considered is what we have called “the animal rescue option”. The party leaders would appear in a daytime television programme and each be required to capture an injured swan. This would test their ability to make tough choices. They would be able to outline the main points of their manifesto (quietly) while creeping up behind the bird. We believe that the voters would be better informed and this would be good for the health of our democracy. It might also be good for the health of the swans.

We have put the idea to the parties and there has been quite a positive reaction, although the Liberal Democrats have expressed some anxiety that Nick Clegg has shorter arms than Mr Brown and Mr Cameron and would not be able to hold the swan far enough away from his face, thus putting him at some disadvantage. We may be able to overcome this problem by providing Mr Clegg with a slightly smaller swan. We have actually found a swan of an appropriate size but unfortunately it is not injured.

The Group is conscious of the need to avoid being superficial. One way of enabling the electorate to participate directly would be to put on a programme called The 100 Worst Party Political Broadcasts. Viewers would be invited to nominate the worst broadcasts and clips would be shown on a programme hosted by Graham Norton. The party leaders would appear as guests, adding their views and reminiscences. This would fill up three hours of the Sky One schedule on three successive Saturday nights.

The parties have responded favourably and welcome a chance to get the public involved. However there may be a problem for the Prime Minister who likes to watch Casualty on the other side on Saturday nights. He feels the programme has improved in the last five years under the Labour government. The Liberal Democrats would like to have some form of proportional representation in the voting for the 100 worst party political broadcasts. We are looking into this.

The Group is well aware that the party leaders must not be seen to be given an “easy ride”. The solution may lie in Before They Were Elected. This would consist of archive footage and home video clips of the party leaders when they were young. They would appear in the studio and the voters would have the chance to see how they reacted under pressure when subjected to scripted mockery.

The Group has never lost sight of the fact that the purpose of the three-way debate is to help the British public use their vote in a more enlightened way. We could achieve this, perhaps, by taking a sample of households throughout the country where the occupants were undecided, then get Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg to arrive unexpectedly and re-decorate their bedrooms while they were out.

This would illustrate how the party leaders established their priorities, organised their plans of action and cleaned up the mess afterwards. Early soundings suggest this one could be a runner, but the Liberal Democrats may need a bit of persuading before Mr Clegg agrees to be Handy Andy.

The Group’s favoured format is the “remote Scottish island option”. This would involve leaving them to fend for themselves, and with no contact with the outside world, for the duration of the election. At the moment we are not sure who should be cast away. The party leaders or the voters? We would welcome your thoughts on this one.

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