Are regional political parties in England given a fair deal on Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs)?
With a General Election approaching and the inevitable PEBs upon us, we examine the Ofcom rules that determine the allocation of these broadcasts.
The Relevant Rules:
1. Before a General Election each registered party should be offered, subject to 2 and 3, below, one or more PEBs. In addition, Channel 4 and Channel 5 must each offer one or more PEBs to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. In every case, the number of PEBs should be determined having regard to the circumstances of a particular election, the nation in which it is held, and the individual party’s past electoral support and/or current support in that nation (see 3, below).
2. Registered parties should qualify for a PEB if they are contesting one sixth or more of the seats up for election in the case of first-past-the-post, multi-constituency elections such as a General Election.
3. Relevant Services should consider making additional allocations of PEBs to registered parties (which satisfy the criteria at 2, above) if evidence of their past electoral support and/or current support at a particular election or in a relevant nation/electoral area means it would be appropriate to do so.
4. In determining allocations of PEBs at elections, the four nations of the UK should be considered separately.
See: Ofcom PPRB Rules
In accordance with the foregoing rules, the minimum numbers of seats a political party must contest in a UK nation in order to qualify for PEBs in that nation are:
N Ireland: 3
Are regional political parties given a fair deal?
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have political parties, such as SNP, Plaid Cymru and DUP who stand for election only in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. There are also several parts of England that have political parties, such as Yorkshire Party, North East Party and Mebyon Kernow who stand for election only in Yorkshire, the North East and Cornwall respectively. The difference being that whereas SNP, Plaid Cymru and DUP stand for election throughout their respective nations, neither Yorkshire Party, North East Party nor Mebyon Kernow stand for election throughout England.
Currently a political party must stand for election in one sixth of all parliamentary constituencies within a UK nation to qualify for PEBs within that nation. This means that to qualify for PEBs a political party must stand for election in at least 89 parliamentary constituencies in England and only in 10, 7 and 3 parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. As all recognised regions in England comprise fewer than 89 parliamentary constituencies, it is impossible under current rules for any regional political party in England to qualify for PEBs. Therefore, whilst qualifying for PEBs on the basis of standing for election in one sixth of all parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is a reasonable basis for SNP, Plaid Cymru and DUP, qualifying for PEBs on the basis of standing for election in one sixth of all parliamentary constituencies in England is an unreasonable basis for Yorkshire Party, North East Party and Mebyon Kernow.
The foregoing exposes the fact that the current rules discriminate against regional political parties in England. Surely the way to end that discrimination is to change the rules so that in order to qualify for PEBs a political party must stand for election in one sixth of all parliamentary constituencies within Scotland, within Wales, within Northern Ireland or within one of the recognised regions in England?