The rolling 24-hour news Speculatron was fired up this morning, and an unholy alliance was formed to declare that Young Dave’s jolly good ultimatum to those pesky broadcasters would cause a split, and that ITV would go it alone, hosting that single seven-way leaders’ debate before the election campaign got into its stride at the end of the month. This was a high risk strategy - because there was no evidence to back it up.
Sun man looks for clue ...
The Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn was first out of the trap, declaring “I hear ITV contemplating going unilateral and hosting a 7 way debate as per No10 offer, as they have 1st one. Would send BBC/Sky apoplectic”. The wriggle room in that wording was soon put to the test, as Newton Dunn was challenged by Michael Crick.
... he speculates! He shoots ...
“1. I said contemplating not planning, 2. No story written, 3. Of course they'd deny it, 4. Of course you want to rubbish it” scoffed the Sun man. That Crick, of Channel 4 News, someone who knows his way around politics, was sceptical should have caused some of those of lesser experience to stop and think. But the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog are not inclined to do either.
... and he gets it totally wrong
“ITV Holding A Secret ‘Leaders’ Debate Next Friday” trumpeted the Fawkes folks, with readers only later finding out “Today’s rumours that ITV could be set to go rogue in the election debates will be given extra credence by news that the broadcaster has their debate studio ready to go and will be hosting a ‘shadow’ debate next Friday”. That means the broadcaster is having a rehearsal, nothing more.
Here comes Ron Hopeful ...
The Fawkes rabble then enthusiastically quoted Newton Dunn’s first Tweet, and for some reason best known to Themselves Personally Now managed to miss Crick’s scepticism and, indeed, the Sun man stressing that his information was that ITV was “contemplating not planning”. The Great Guido had demonstrated that the Fawkes blog was “#1”.
... and he's wrong too
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, there was no split in the ranks of the broadcasters, and this afternoon came the news that “Broadcasters have welcomed David Cameron’s offer to take part in a single election TV debate but stood by their plan to hold three separate debates … The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky stuck by their revised plans to hold three debates, two between seven party leaders, and one a proposed head-to-head between the prime minister and Ed Miliband”.
[UPDATE 1800 hours: Craig Oliver has sent a suitably terse, not to say, sour, letter to Michael Jeremy at ITV, in response to the news that the broadcasters would go ahead with three debates, with or without Cameron. Here is the text (h/t Politics Home):
Thank you for your letter.
I made the Prime Minister’s final position clear in my last letter – he is willing to do a seven-way debate in the week beginning March 23rd.
Clearly it is disappointing that you are not prepared to take him up on that offer.
I am ready to discuss at your convenience the logistics of making the debate we have suggested happen.
Methinks Oliver protests too soon. He's screwed. His boss is screwed. All they can do now is sit there in splendid isolation and hope the Tories' poll numbers don't start to sag. That's not a good position to be in. Wrong call, chaps]