Leader debates have become a pre-eminent means of campaign communication in numerous countries and were introduced in the UK relatively recently. However, the quality of such communication is, to put it mildly, open to question. This article uses the discourse quality index (DQI) to assess the deliberative quality of the 2010 UK party leaders’ debates. When scrutinized in isolation, and viewed through the full prism of the DQI categories, the quality of discourse evidenced in the debates is a relatively poor reflection of mainstream idealizations of democratic deliberation. However, when the analysis is rehoused within the wider project of constructing a deliberative system in the UK, and is given a comparative institutional dimension, the epistemic value of the debates is revealed. The relatively high level of justification employed by the party leaders suggests that the debates are a valuable means for the mass communication of reasoned defenses of manifesto pledges to the public sphere, and that they are likely to have a significant educative effect. Moreover, we argue that sequencing such debates with representative deliberative fora will force elites to improve the deliberative quality of their communication and enhance the reflective capacity of the viewing public.
- party leaders