Nigel Farage speaks at the UKIP 2014 Spring Conference at the Riviera International on March 1, 2014 in Torquay. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ukip named as a “major party” by Ofcom for European elections

The decision means the party will now be entitled to equal levels of TV coverage as the other main parties.

Ahead of the European elections on 22 May, Ofcom has announced that broadcasters will be required to treat Ukip as a “major party” for the contest. The significance of this decision is that it will now be entitled to an equal amount of Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) as Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. The ruling, however, will not apply to Scotland-only programming due to Ukip’s low level of support in the country. Here’s the Ofcom statement in full: 

We have consulted on an appropriate approach for determining the composition of the list of major parties ahead of the elections taking place on 22 May 2014.

Our decision is that the United Kingdom Independence Party (“UKIP”) should be added to the list of major parties in England and in Wales for the 2014 European Parliament elections.

The practical effect of this decision is as follows:

  • Broadcasters transmitting PEBs on a UK/Great Britain-wide basis (such as Channel 5 in the European Parliamentary elections) will be obliged to treat UKIP as a major party across the whole of England, Wales and Scotland (ie Great Britain) as a whole.
  • STV will not be required to treat UKIP as a major party for the purposes of broadcasting Scotland-only PEBs. This reflects the fact that UKIP has low levels of support in Scotland. However, ITV Wales will have to treat UKIP as a major party for the purposes of broadcasting Wales-only PEBs, reflecting the fact that UKIP has significant levels of support in Wales 
  • In news and current affairs election programming that focuses on the European Parliamentary elections across England, Wales and Scotland (i.e. Great Britain) as a whole, UKIP will be treated as a major party across the whole of England, Wales and Scotland (i.e. Great Britain). However, in news and current affairs election programming that focuses on the European Parliamentary elections in just Scotland, UKIP will not be treated as a major party in such programming.

The decision will intensify the debate over whether Ukip should be regarded as a major party for the 2015 general election. While it has no MPs (in contrasts to its nine MEPs), some will argue that it should be included on the list if it continues to lead the Lib Dems in most opinion polls (and Ofcom appears to have taken its current poll ratings into account). Were Ukip to be classified as a major party, it would make it far harder (and even impossible) to exclude Nigel Farage from any TV leaders’ debates. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.