You report (27 April) that the UK has slipped further down the press freedom rankings. This is not the only freedom currently under attack. The Economic and Social Research Council has instructed all grant holders not to “publish anything that has the potential to influence the outcome of the election” during the so-called “period of sensitivity”, which runs from midnight on 21 April until at least 9 June. This “purdah” will not end until a new government is formed. The same instruction applies to all posts to websites and social media platforms. In other words, social science academics are being forbidden to use the knowledge derived from publicly funded research to inform debate at a crucial juncture in the nation’s history, when our public services are crumbling and we are about to turn our back on our European partners. If ever there was a time when informed debate was urgently needed, this is surely it. It beggars belief that the ESRC is issuing such a draconian directive; politicians may believe they can dispense with “experts”, but surely it ill behoves one of the country’s major funders of social research to connive in their foolishness.
• So, neither Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May are prepared to take part in the TV debates. Behind all the excuses this is simply about not giving the smaller parties airtime and avoiding criticism, yet every voter, including those already committed to blindly voting red or blue, has the right to hear what these other parties stand for. They also deserve to hear May and Corbyn cope with uncomfortable questioning, and hustings can also expose a policy’s weakness in ways that sanitised TV and radio interviews never can.
The BBC, ITV and Sky should now take the lead and act, or we will never have TV debates again. They should announce a series of three identical debates, all featuring the leaders of all main parties, and for each debate two empty chairs will be provided. When May and Corbyn relent, and ask for their own private debate, they should be told “no, you debate with the rest or leave your chairs empty”. The debates belong to the people, and pPoliticians should not be able to decide on participation simply based on party advantage.
• “The mess we inherited from Labour” is an iambic pentameter. Repeated by every coalition minister, it had great rhetorical effect. Shakespeare knew this. “Strong and stable leadership” falls short by three beats, while adding “in the national interest” makes it 15 (Kim Jong-May stays supremely to script, 27 April). Neither mantra, therefore, has the capacity to become self-evident, received wisdom. Labour could try: “Corbyn: The courage of his convictions.” Other suggestions welcome.