Boost for Farage as Ukip now ranked as a 'major party'
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has received a huge boost after a British government regulator said the UK Independence Party would be ranked as a "major party" at May's election.
In practice the decision by media regulator Ofcom guarantees airtime for Ukip for two party election broadcasts on commercial radio and television broadcasters for the first time during the campaign.
But it means that Ukip will be on the same footing as the other national parties: the Conseratives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, formally endorsing an era of four-party politics in Britain. It will also make it almost impossible for the major broadcasters to deny Mr Farage, the Ukip leader, a place in the televised leaders' debate.
Mr Farage said: "This is the first time nationally that Ukip has been recognised as a major party. I am very pleased indeed.
"Fruitcakes are in. There have been certain by-elections where we have been classed as a major party in a particular constituency. As far as the negotiations for the TV election debates are concerned it puts us in a very much stronger position.
"It is an important recognition that Ukip has arrived as a real political force."
The news is a blow for the Green Party, which has been campaigning to be allowed to be allowed to take part in the debates. Natalie Bennett, the Green Party Leader, said: "The Green Party is deeply disappointed by this draft Ofcom ruling, not only for itself, but for the damage it risks doing to British democracy."
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, added: "Not only is this grossly unfair, but it denies the public the opportunity to hear from a fresh voice."
Ofcom's Broadcasting Code requires that "due weight must be given to the broadcast coverage of major parties during the election period". It does not directly affect which party leaders are invited to take part in live TV debates, which is an editorial matter for each broadcaster in direct negotiation with the parties. But Ofcom rules require broadcasters to ensure all coverage, including debates, complies with rules concerning due impartiality. Announcing the plans - which are subject to a consultation - Ofcom said its "initial view is that Ukip may qualify for major party status in England and Wales for the General Election and English local elections on 7 May 2015". (© Daily Telegraph, London)