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Televised election debates follow strict rules

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-04-15

A new era in British politics begins tonight with the first in a series of three live televised debates between the main candidates for prime minister in the May 6 general election.

The first of long-awaited face-offs between the leaders of Britain's main political parties takes place tonight on ITV, in what has been labelled a major shake-up of the country's political traditions.

Discussions will focus on domestic politics during the first debate, but the candidates will be able to touch on other topics as well. Twelve million Britons are expected to watch the debate, with the stakes high as polls indicate that the outcome of the election still hangs in the balance.

Trailing in the polls and ever uneasy before the cameras, Prime Minister Gordon Brown will confront his younger, more charismatic rival David Cameron of the Conservative Party. For the third contender, little-known Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Clegg, the debate will offer a rare chance to put his party on a par with its bigger rivals.

Negotiations between the three camps on the format of the debates have stretched over several months. The result is a complex 76-point contract, which covers everything from the positioning of the candidates to the behaviour of a very carefully selected audience.

Here are some of the rules:

- The handpicked audience, composed of 200 people, must represent the British voting population in terms of sex, age, ethnicity and social class.

- 20% of the audience must be made up of undecided "swing" voters. The rest will represent a number of supporters of each party, seven for the Labour party, seven from the Conservatives and five LibDems.

- At the end of the programme, according to rule 57, candidates must shake hands.

- Discussed by the parties, rule 66 refers to the positioning of the candidates on the set. Brown, who was deprived of the use of his left eye in his youth, will stand on the left of the two other competitors so that he can use his right eye.

- Even the shots during the debates have been negotiated. Wider shots of the public are authorised but closer shots of individual people are forbidden during the discussions.

Date created : 2010-04-15

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