LONDON: The British political leaders taking part in today’s election debate will have to abide by almost 80 rules governing stipulations such as when to shake hands and when the audience can clap.The list was agreed after months of wrangling between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.The rules mean the leaders’ debates are likely to be the most policed, regulated and structured 90 minutes of live broadcasting in British TV history.But the stage-managed nature of the debates may prove a turn-off and broadcasters are concerned the exchanges may appear too sterile.The National Grid, which monitors surges in energy consumption at the end of peak-time programmes, forecast that the early-evening soap operas would prove far more popular.Under an agreement between the broadcasters, the debate in Manchester will deal exclusively with domestic affairs.But up to half of this first debate is expected to concentrate on issues resulting from the expenses scandal exposed last year.These include ”trust in politics”, ”political reform” and the ”constitution”.Other subjects include immigration, the National Health Service, education and policies for the family.The debate next week will cover international affairs and the final debate will be on the economy.The leaders of all the political parties are starting to concede that the biggest opposition they face is public apathy and anger.Strategists believe the debate is crucial to attempts to convince the public that the leaders empathise with their anger.But the television audience is likely to be denied the opportunity to see public anger boiling over.Last year, politicians on Question Time on the BBC were heckled about their expenses claims. Such behaviour has now been barred.The resulting ”sterile” atmosphere may prove controversial with the leaders looking as if they are unwilling to confront voters’ anger directly.A Conservative source said: ”David [Cameron] is well aware of the anger out there and the detachment from all politicians among the electorate. He wants to address the public and answer their questions head on.”A panel of broadcasters has been meeting for months to consider what questions to ask.In the first half of the debate the moderator, the TV presenter Alastair Stewart, will ask a series of themed questions. The audience will then be called to ask approved questions. Stewart may also ask the leaders questions which have been emailed.Telegraph, London
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