[Update at end of post]
One new feature of the 2010 General Election campaign, and one which actually engaged voters, was the concept of the Leaders’ debates. And no participant pushed harder for these to take place than Young Dave. There were debates at other levels, too: financial spokesmen had their own, and other members of the cabinet debated with those who might occupy the same role after the election.
No Dave, there isn't a convenient way out of the debates over there
It’s all rather different this time round: Cameron clearly does not want to demean himself by debating with Mil The Younger, and certainly not Corporal Clegg. To this end, the PM has begun the deployment of a series of excuses aimed at undermining the debates so severely that they do not take place at all. There is one very good reason for this: he is, as Mrs T once said in the Commons, frit.
This came on the back of an Ofcom ruling on which parties could be considered “major” ones. As the Guardian observed, “The prime minister was responding to a draft ruling by Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, that the Green party does not have sufficient support to qualify for ‘major party status’ in the general election, but Ukip may have. Ofcom’s initial decision makes the Greens’ argument to be included in the TV leader election debates much harder to press successfully, although the party has until early February to make its case before a final decision in early March”
The eagle-eyed will see immediately that Ofcom have merely issued guidance, and that whether or not Natalie Bennett gets an invite to the debate which would feature Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Nigel “Thirsty” Farage is not in their gift. The Greens’ inclusion would not pose significant problems, and would be for one debate only.
The other two debates would be, firstly, between Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, before a final head-to-head between the two most likely to be the next PM, which means just Cameron and Miliband. The impression being given is that Dave is scared not of any sense of unfairness towards the Greens, but that Miliband may well best him.
Why he should be frightened is not hard to understand, if one looks back at the 2010 debates. Young Dave and his jolly good chaps were raring to go for two straightforward reasons: Dave was thought to be better at the debating game than his opponents, and the format would expose Pa Broon. It didn’t work out that way: Clegg was the one who gained, to the horror of the Tory-supporting press.
And, worse, Brown had prepared well and did not suffer at all from the exposure. Now that Cameron is the incumbent, he desperately wants to avoid the possibility that Miliband, over the course of three debates, will wear him down and demonstrate that there is a difference between the enthusiastic backing of over 300 braying MPs, and the polite silence of a sceptical studio audience.
David Cameron, you’re a coward, you’re frit, and yes, you’re chicken.
[UPDATE 1550 hours: Peter Oborne is also distinctly sceptical of Cameron's motives. Writing in the Telegraph, he tells "Mr Cameron’s excuse that he will not take part in a debate without the Greens looks like a transparent ruse. He is using the Greens as an excuse".
And his suggestion for moving the whole exercise forward? "I believe the other parties now have a priceless opportunity to call Mr Cameron’s bluff. Rival party leaders can make clear that they would be happy to involve Natalie Bennett, whatever Ofcom thinks".
His conclusion is then straightforward: "If the PM continues to refuse to take part, the broadcasters would then be entitled to call a debate of their own and to empty chair the Conservative leader".
That would mean Miliband doing the last debate unopposed, save for the moderator. Would Dave care to take that risk? It all depends how chicken he is]
just a small query, if the OFCOM ruling stands it would mean The Greens are not entitled to be included (am I right?) - but does it mean the Broadcasters CANNOT invite them?
Ofcom have only issued guidance, and the broadcasters are free to invite the Greens if they wish.
These debates were, iirc, an Andy Coulson idea and something the Tories were desperate for - less because they thought Cameron was a brilliant debater and more because he is somehow presidential in demeanour - they were meant to go hand in hand with those awful airbrushed posters.
I think it was less the Clegg thing and more the exposure of Cameron's limits that was the problem - he simply isn't as presentable or capable as they all thought, and rather than tough it out - which is what his hero Blair would have done - he's now desperately trying to squirm out of his own invention, because he knows that Miliband is calmer than him and knows how to press his buttons - the uncontrollable anger he displays at PMQs will look even worse in this kind of debate. It's priceless.
"Ofcom have only issued guidance, and the broadcasters are free to invite the Greens if they wish."
Except the broadcasters don't wish - for reasons that remain unclear - and Ofcom has given them an excuse. It may only be guidance, but it's exactly the guidance the broadcasters wanted.
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