Nigel Farage has been invited to one of three proposed leaders' debates. Photo: Getty.
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Broadcasters invite Farage to one of three debates

Will Cameron use the Lib Dems' opposition to scupper the broadcasters' debate proposals?

For more on the debates and the run-up to the general election, follow our new site: May2015.com.  

The four major broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have grouped together and offered the political parties three debates.

They have offered a 2/3/4 format. One debate, to be co-produced by Sky and Channel 4 and hosted by Jeremy Paxman, would feature just David Cameron and Ed Miliband. It would be the debate for “who could become prime minister”.

A second would include Nick Clegg, in a repeat of the format from 2010, when the leaders of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems met in three debates. This would be broadcast on the BBC and hosted by David Dimbleby, in his 51st and final year of election coverage.

The final, and likely most enthralling, debate would include Nigel Farage. It would be chaired by ITV’s Julie Etchingham.

The offer follows a joint proposal in May by the Guardian, Telegraph and YouTube for an online debate that could be carried on any media outlet.

The Lib Dems took 28 minutes to reject the proposals, arguing that Nick Clegg should be included in the “prime minister’s” debate, despite his party polling in the single digits and likely to be around 300 seats short of a majority in May 2015.

Nigel Farage provisionally accepted the terms, tweeting that the “Decision is better than it could have been”. But argued that “If [the] political landscape continues to change we would expect and ask for inclusion in a 2nd debate”.

The main party leaders are yet to react to the proposals, but many pundits think Cameron is willing to let the plans collapse. He has reportedly been advised by his chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, to avoid any debates.

He may be helped by the complaints of the Green party, who think their leader Natalie Bennett should be included in the four-party debate.

They may yet be invited, but they are many reasons why they shouldn't be. People point to the polls, and suggest the Greens are as popular as the Lib Dems, but they aren’t. The Lib Dems are polling at around eight per cent, and have between eight and ten per cent throughout the year. The Greens are far more consistently at around five per cent.

For every two Green voters there are three Lib Dem supporters.

Perhaps more importantly, the party has one MP who they may lose, while the Lib Dems are still likely to have around 20-25 after May 2015. Finally, the Lib Dems are in government and are partly responsible for the Coalition. The Greens have almost no legislative history.

When asked in April, the public agreed. 64 and 74 per cent of voters thought Farage and Clegg should be included in the debates, while just 28 per cent thought the Greens should be, which is scarcely more than thought the leader of the BNP should be included.

As for the current four-party debate, Ladbrokes have already made Farage the favourite to win the affair. He is 2/1 to come out on top, with Cameron second favourite on 5/2. Four years after comprehensively winning the leaders' debates in 2010, Nick Clegg is 3/1.

It is unclear how Ed Miliband will react to the proposals.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

Abbas / Magnum Photos
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Portrait of a religion: Hindu rituals and celebrations across Asia

The Iranian photographer Abbas spent three years journeying through the Hindu religion capturing a wealth of sacred ceremonies.

 

My relationship with God,” Abbas says, “has always been strictly professional.”

The French-Iranian photographer has spent his life photographing every major religion on earth. But, be it the God of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs, he has always retained a degree of distance. He doesn’t tell me what to do,” Abbas says. “And I don’t tell Him what to do with his believers. It’s nothing personal.”

Abbas, 72, was born in Iran and raised in Algeria during that country’s fight for independence. As a young man, he made his name photographing the Iranian Revolution of the late 70s, including a now iconic image of an old, veiled woman dragged to her death by a lynch mob.

It’s not faith I’m interested in,” he says. “It’s what men make of their faith. I’m not interested in God, I’m interested in what people do in His name — the great things, and the stupid things.”

Now he has photographed the Hindu faith. And this, Abbas realised, was to be a bit more complicated than usual. Every major religion tell us to worship one God. They have one sacred text, one central religious authority, one idyll of a returning prophet. Apart from Hinduism.

A baba sanyassi by the altar he has erected to his god in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Hinduism is a religion of more than 330 million Gods and Goddesses,”Abbas says. “They change name, nature and sex. They marry and divorce and ask for alimony. They are strangely familiar to us in their doubts and weaknesses. They are, all in all, very human gods. Like us, they are capable of the best and the worst.”

There are more than a billion Hindus in the world, making it the world's — and the UK’s — third largest religion. It's also the world's oldest religion, with key texts dating back to 1500 BC. But what do we know of this faith, one followed by around a million British citizens?

Hindus believe in Karma — a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. And so their faith is expressed through a dizzying variety of sacred rituals and celebrations, animals and insects, places and texts.

For his most recent photobook Gods I’ve Seen: Travels Among Hindus, published in October, Abbas travelled for three years through India, Bali, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

"Hinduism may be the least egalitarian of the great religions,” Abbas says. “But what diversity exists in its expression. All I had to do was go down to the street, and the religion unfolded before me. I would walk to the river and see a God thrown into the sea.” (This was the river Hoogly in Kolkata, India, where devotees drown a statue of Durga, the Bengali avatar of goddess Kali).

This series began on 1 January, 2011, in The Hanuman Temple of New Delhi. There he discovered a monkey deity all of 15 meters tall. The city’s aerial metro trundles past at the height of the monkey’s waist, and devotees enter through an opening between its legs. “I was seized with laughter,” Abbas says. “I could tell I was going to like this religion, after more than 35 years of photographing the Sons of Abraham.”

 

In the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ most sacred place, a pilgrim holds a leaf to receive the morning food offering, Amritsar, India. 
Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Abbas’ photographs are remarkable in their scope, from a Tantric Sannyasi in Tarapith, India, who uses the skull of his dead guru to enhance his spiritual powers during meditation, to naked devotees in Allahabad, in the north of the country, who rush to the holy waters for a ritual bath, to a man in Colombo, Sri Lanka, suspended high in the air from hooks inserted into his flesh, to Jain devotees in Mumbai, wearing masks to avoid harming insects by swallowing them.

On his penultimate journey, Abbas found himself in Junjungan, a village near Ubud in the uplands of Bali. Every 30 years, the village has a festival of sacrifice.

For a week, praying, dancing and offerings to the deities, mostly of live animals, succeed one another,” Abbas says. “All domestic animals, or those easily caught and unfortunate enough to be alive on this friendly island, are sacrificed, from the largest buffalo to the very smallest chicks, a tortoise, a newly born piglet.”

Students from the Indonesia Institute of Arts dress up for a rejong traditional dance in the Batur temple, Kinmantan, Bali. Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Abbas saw a pair of dogs, muzzled, tied to a pole and exposed to the sun. “The devotees prayed around them, sitting on the ground with their hands folded above their head. As the two dogs became more agitated, so a devotee tried to calm their distress by stroking them. Soon after they were massacred, and not eaten. It was such an innocent form of sadism.”

Remembering the sight of the dying dogs, Abbas says: “Abrahamic religions try to suppress the dark side of mankind by encouraging the struggle towards its annihilation. Hinduism recognises our dark sides, but urges their coexistence with the good and the light, in order to reach a sense of personal harmony. It’s a philosophy, I admit, with which I am more in tune.”

Gods I’ve Seen: Travels Among Hindus is available from Phaidon.

Tom Seymour is a freelance journalist.