Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
4 November 2019

Liberal Democrats mulling legal action over TV debate snub

Senior party figures have told ITV that the party will sue if the network does not revise its decision to exclude Jo Swinson from the first head-to-head election debate.

By Patrick Maguire

Will Jo Swinson manage to muscle in on the first head-to-head debate of the general election campaign, slated to be televised by ITV on 19 November? The Liberal Democrats are determined to make sure she does. This evening Mike Dixon, the party’s chief executive, and Chuka Umunna, who sits on its election committee, met with senior executives at the network to make the case for their leader’s inclusion this evening.

In public, Swinson and the Liberal Democrats have made much of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to a three-way debate. She and her MPs have accused the prime minister and leader of the opposition of being sexists, cowards, or both. They hope their agitation will either embarrass either or both of the main party leaders into budging, or, failing that, at least partially make up for some of the publicity they will miss out on due to the omission.

In private, they have taken an uncompromising stance in talks with ITV and ITN. This evening Dixon and Umunna told executives that the party believed Swinson’s exclusion was unlawful – given the obligation on networks to provide fair and equal coverage – and that legal action would follow if they did not budge.

There is little sign of ITV doing so, especially now Sky has offered to host a three-way debate. But, for the Liberal Democrats, pursuing the case to the courts is a no-brainer in two crucial respects. Like Nick Clegg in 2010, Swinson lacks widespread name recognition and needs media exposure as the leader of a major party, rather than an also-ran, if she is to ensure her momentum at a local and European level translates into more seats at Westminster. Her allies also believe that a debate in which she outflanked Corbyn on Europe would help limit Labour’s squeeze on the Liberal Democrat share of the vote.

But even if Swinson fails to force her way into the debates via the courts, any legal action will generate headlines about the big two running scared. Her gamble is that voters see it in those terms, rather than as an affirmation of her irrelevance.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Topics in this article :