Ofcom publishes consultation on ‘major parties’ list
Ofcom has today published a consultation on the political parties it lists as ‘major parties’ ahead of the General Election in May 2015.
The list of major parties is important for Ofcom’s regulation of election coverage, in particular requiring the relevant broadcasters to allocate at least two Party Election Broadcasts to each major party ahead of an election.
These broadcasters are ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio. Broadcasters can also choose to allocate additional Party Election Broadcasts.
Party Election Broadcasts on the BBC are regulated by the BBC Trust and currently the subject of a consultation.
Ofcom keeps its list of major parties under review to ensure it reflects political developments in the UK.
The major parties
Ofcom’s existing list of major parties is:
- In Great Britain, the Conservative Party; the Labour Party; and the Liberal Democrats.
- In Scotland and Wales respectively, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.
- In Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party; the Democratic Unionist Party; Sinn Fein; the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and the Ulster Unionist Party.
Based on available evidence, Ofcom’s initial view is there is no strong argument to remove any of the existing parties from the list of major parties.
Ofcom has also considered whether other parties should be added to the list. Based on available evidence, Ofcom is consulting on whether three parties would qualify for the major parties list for the 2015 General Election. These are:
- the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party);
- the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in Northern Ireland; and
- the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Ofcom’s initial view is that UKIP may qualify for major party status in England and Wales for the General Election and English local elections on 7 May 2015.
Ofcom’s initial view is neither the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party) nor the TUV have secured sufficient support in previous elections and current opinion polls to be added to Ofcom’s major party list for the purposes of the May 2015 elections.
Evidence for proposed change to major parties list
In deciding which parties are on the list, Ofcom assesses all relevant evidence of support including:
- previous electoral performance, including an analysis of share of vote alongside seats won; and
- current opinion polling data.
In relation to the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party), the TUV and UKIP the evidence indicates that:
The Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party)
The party has not demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections. The Green Party has performed better in some other forms of election, such as the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, obtaining 8.0% and 8.1% of the vote in England and Scotland.
In terms of evidence of current support, the party’s opinion poll rating in Great Britain-wide polls has increased in recent months to 5.9% in December 2014 (4.0% on average during 2014).
The TUV has not demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections. The party performed better in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, obtaining 12.1% of the vote in Northern Ireland. However, it has not demonstrated significant support in other forms of election or significant current support in opinion polls.
UKIP has not demonstrated significant past electoral support in previous General Elections, achieving 3.5% of the vote in 2010 and has not won a Parliamentary seat at a General Election.
UKIP’s performance in a number of other significant forms of election has, however, been stronger. Notably, UKIP has won two seats in Parliament at recent by-elections.
UKIP demonstrated a significant level of support in England and Wales in the European Parliament elections in 2014 (29.2% England, 27.6% Wales) while its share of the vote was lower in Scotland (10.5%). UKIP also demonstrated significant levels of support in the English local elections (15.7% in 2014 and 19.9% in 2013).
Opinion poll data indicates that UKIP currently has significant levels of support in England and Wales and has the third highest rating in those polls after the Conservative and Labour parties. Opinion poll data in Scotland shows lower levels of current support.
Ofcom is seeking views on its initial assessment. The consultation is open until Thursday, 5 February and Ofcom expects to publish a statement, and if appropriate a revised list of major parties, by early March 2015.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- Ofcom is consulting on its list of ‘major parties’ for the General Election, English local government elections (in some parts of England) and English mayoral elections (in Bedford; Leicester; Mansfield; Middlesbrough; and Torbay). These elections will be held on 7 May 2015.
- Rule 6.2 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (“the Code”) states that due weight must be given to the broadcast coverage of major parties during the election period. Under Ofcom’s Rules on Party Political and Referendum Broadcasts (“the PPRB Rules”) all major parties must be offered at least two Party Election Broadcasts on Channel 3 services (ITV, STV and UTV), Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio. The Code and PPRB Rules also lay out rules for the treatment of other registered parties.
- Ofcom has strict rules in place for broadcasters to ensure fair coverage during the run up to the General Election. Broadcasters must ensure that all coverage, including any possible leadership debates, complies with rules concerning due impartiality and elections, as set out in the Code.
- It is the responsibility of broadcasters to determine the structure, format and style of election coverage such as leaders’ debates. The decision on which leaders are represented in any possible election debates is an editorial matter for broadcasters in agreement with the political parties taking part.
- Under the Memorandum of Understanding between Ofcom and the BBC Trust, BBC licence fee funded services have to comply with the Broadcasting Code: “to the extent that such standards do not concern the accuracy or impartiality of the content of any programme included in the BBC’s UK Public Broadcasting Services. The accuracy and impartiality of programmes within the BBC’s Public Broadcasting Services are the responsibility of the BBC Trust”. In relation to Party Election Broadcasts, under the 2006 BBC Charter and Agreement, the BBC Trust regulates the criteria for Party Election Broadcasts on BBC services. The BBC Trust is currently consulting on the BBC’s proposed criteria for Party Election Broadcasts for the 2015 elections. For details of the consultation, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/have_your_say/peb_criteria.
- The S4C Authority prepares the policy for party political and referendum broadcasts on S4C. In formulating this policy, the S4C Authority takes note of the decisions made in the Broadcasters Liaison Group (a representative forum for U.K. public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C), the views of the Electoral Commission and the rules made by Ofcom under s333 of the Communications Act 2003.