Why aren’t the Greens in the TV election debate?

Today's plans by broadcasters for the election TV debates appear eminently sensible. One expanded debate would include Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron. A second would feature just Clegg, Miliband and Cameron. And a third would feature the Tory and Labour leaders head-to-head.

But where are the Greens? Why are they not in the first expanded debate?

The party received 1,255,573 votes in the European elections, more than the Lib Dem's 1,087,633. They came third in the London mayoral election, again ahead of the Lib Dems.

The party ran in 300 seats last election, just under half the available constituencies. Sure, it is not a nationwide party, but it is strong and popular enough to justify inclusion in the expanded debate line-up.

The plans have not been responded to by the political parties yet, but broadcasters' decision to exclude the Greens is unjustifiable. It seems like a stitch-up and it strengthens the arguments of those who percieve a right-wing bias in media outlets' disproportionate coverage of Ukip.

In reality, the media gives Farage airtime because he speaks simply and charismatically. Furthermore, his party plays havoc with the political status quo. It is like a grenade rolled under the Westminster table. Producers are right to want him on.

Green party leaders do not have the same qualities. They do not speak simply or charismatically, with the possible exception of Caroline Lucas, who was unwise not to stay in the leadership role. They do not have the same dramatic effect on the other parties around them.

But these arguments fall apart when the question is about democratic legitimacy rather than day-to-day editorial strategy. The party has shown it has more than enough support to warrant inclusion in the TV debates.

Leaving them out shoves political debate firmly to the right in a manner which is not proportionate to the voting habits of the public. It disrespects over a million Green voters. And it reveals the extent to which the media is influencing politics as much as it is covering it. Broadcasters are right to spread out the coverage to include Ukip, as they seek to reflect changing voting habits. But they are terribly wrong to have drawn the line there.

This was a decision of the highest political importance. The broadcasters have made a grave error.