What's holding up UK TV head-to-head election debate?

Debate drama may give Cameron a boost
Debate drama may give Cameron a boost

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    Debate drama may give Cameron a boost

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Debate drama may give Cameron a boost 02:24

Story highlights

  • Election TV debates only arrived in the UK in 2010
  • Broadcasters are keen to repeat the head-to-head format in the run-up to the 2015 poll
  • But factional politics and arguments about who is invited may derail a TV debate

(CNN)Back in 2010 Britain's politicians broke new ground. They were long used to haranguing each other in the UK's rowdy House of Commons -- but they'd never had American style pre-election head-to-head debates.

It is necessary and long-established political fare in the U.S. -- but over here in the UK, it was novel.
It seemed to go well -- political points were scored, and polls were commissioned looking for advantages gained or lost. It was a drama of sorts, even though no knock-out punches were landed.
    Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party won the election, but not by enough to go into government alone.
    For the past five years he's been governing in coalition with the UK's third party, the Liberal Democrats. And their leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, has mostly backed Cameron in Parliamentary debates against the opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband.
    Britain's broadcasters, keen to channel lively politics onto prime time TV and boost ratings, have been working the corridors of power themselves over the past year to try to nail down a repeat -- or two -- of the 2010 knockabout.
    What's at stake isn't just the proposed debates ahead of May's general election -- but the enshrining of such debates permanently into Britain's political architecture -- just like in the U.S.
    But while Cameron and Miliband have hired former White House election advisers to edge them in to the lead, no one can agree on what form a debate should take, how many there should be, or even who should be invited.
    Cameron has insisted on just one debate involving the leaders of seven leading UK parties -- giving equal airtime to the Greens, the Scottish Nationalists and the upstart rightwing UK Independence Party (UKIP), among others.
    But Miliband's Labour party is holding out for at least one head-to-head debate with Cameron.
    No one seems to be budging but both of the UK's largest parties could use the bump in the polls such a debate might bring.
    Part of the problem is the British electorate, which has changed since 2010, boosting the fortunes of some of the country's former political outliers.
    Anti-EU party popularity grows ahead of UK elections
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      Anti-EU party popularity grows ahead of UK elections

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    Anti-EU party popularity grows ahead of UK elections 02:20
    The rightwing UKIP, which has pledged to take the UK out of the European Union, has made massive gains in the past year -- mostly at the expense of Cameron's Conservatives.
    In Scotland, the September independence referendum (which narrowly failed) so reinvigorated the Scottish National Party that they could hit what is usually a key Labour stronghold, undermining Miliband's bid for power.
    All of this has made the whole process of nailing down precisely who will be allowed in the debate that much more tortuous. For the big leaders who drive that conversation, it is about how each outlier can help them -- and hinder their rivals.
    It once looked like it would become as much of a British institution as rain, or fish and chips, but now the election debate seems in danger of not happening at all.
    On the upside, you can still tune in to House of Commons TV most days of the week to get your fix of one lawmaker bellowing at another. But do it soon -- I hear that even those everyday raucous exchanges are being scrutinized for being a bit old-fashioned.