TV Debate Drop-out

David Cameron’s decision not to take part in the televised election debates unless the Green Party is included is the wrong one. His crying out about ‘fairness’ is falling on deaf ears. Why the Greens but not the SNP, who are on course to dominate in Scotland?


The joint-letter released this week by Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage – I’m not really sure who invited Nigel into the fold – shows there is a unilateral desire by the leaders to get in front of the cameras. In a parliamentary cycle in which Dave has, on the whole, had a relatively easy ride, it looks a little bit greedy to threaten to derail the applecart if he doesn’t get his own way with the debates. 


Few political commentators on the left or right would have expected the Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition to survive for the full five-year term with only ‘minor’ relationship hiccups. I use the word ‘minor’ tentatively; however it depends on your point of view. Even in the midst of these hiccups, the most recent and divisive of which was the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’, neither David or Nick looked like they were genuinely ready to throw the towel in, at least in public anyway, although I’m positive that in private poor old Nick must have come pretty close on more than one occasion. 


One might say the Lib-Dems have produced a tactical masterclass of a performance. They realised pretty early on in their political marriage with the Conservatives that it would, quite frankly, be daft to have left government in order to re-enter the political wilderness. One look at their poll ratings for the last three years and you’ll begin to wonder how they even had a voice in the Commons, let alone one in generating policy. The poor sods have struggled to hit double-figures for most of the Parliament, and to rub even more salt in the wound, the Lib-Dems have been trailing behind UKIP for well over two years now. However I digress. The point I am making is that the Conservatives would have given their left leg on the 2010 results day if they had known the Parliament would go this swimmingly.


David Cameron and his strategists should be pragmatic in the run up to May. They have a lot of cards to flash at their faithful band of Tory men (and women) from their stint in office, including: record numbers of people in employment; an economy out-performing both France (admittedly not hard right now) and Germany; and, who could forget to mention, that decreasing deficit they keep banging on about. And all that in the last twelve months! There’s no point sitting on the fence with the debates in the hope that the Tory poll ratings won’t slip, and neither is there any point in waiting for Ed to make any more mistakes. Surely, like a moth to a flame, they will come regardless. 


With all David’s talk in the 2010 election run-up about transforming the Westminster machine, you would think he would be up for opening the establishment to a bit more public scrutiny. Despite still being massively rehearsed, the debates are a refreshing opportunity to see the leaders confront each other outside of PMQ’s and the Commons. I expect more people would recognise a television studio over rows of green leather sofas, and something as simple as a change of scenery might just resonate with the people David, and indeed Ed and Nick, want to attract.   

The success of the 2010 debates is unquestionable. The viewing figures averaged 9 million on the terrestrial channels; which put into perspective, is more than EastEnders on Christmas Day. For those wondering, EastEnders managed a shockingly poor (in my opinion) 7.5 million. Put simply, that is a huge number of people Cameron can directly engage with, and what’s more largely on his own terms.

Furthermore, Dave was actually pretty good during the 2010 debates. Nigel Farage’s comment about Cameron losing the debates is just a waft of hot air; the opinion polls showed he clearly won the final debate, and I suspect the only reason Nick Clegg pipped him to the post in debate-one is because the man was a novelty, and again in debate-two because the novelty hadn’t worn off. Cameron scored consistently high: around and above the 30% mark, and there is little reason to think he shouldn’t do so again in 2015, especially if he can real off some of his neat facts and figures as he does so regularly on The Andrew Marr Show. 


If Dave really believes his government has implemented reforms that are crucial for Britain’s future, how can he not get behind the podium and tell people why? There certainly is a whiff of cowardice about the whole issue. 


Admittedly, an arch-nemesis in the form of Ed Milliband may be enough to melt the most-steely resolve. However Ed’s own ratings have been catastrophically low, apparently worse than Michael Foot even, which quite frankly speaks volumes about his leadership. That said, I do feel for Ed.

Posing for a photograph is like Russian roulette at the best of times, let alone when you’re not even aware you’re playing. I too have fallen victim to an ill-timed eyebrow raise and opportunistic shutterbutton finger. Not quite while eating a bacon sandwich, but then people generally don’t follow me around with cameras. Not that I’ve noticed, anyway.   


Yet Ed can rest safe in the knowledge that at least he has been beating Nick Clegg.   


If capitalising on Ed’s low opinion ratings isn’t one of the key attractions of the debates for the Tories’ upper tiers, then perhaps a reshuffle of the batting line-up is in order.


Whatever the reasons may be, it is patronising, if not down-right hypocritical, to quote the word ‘fair’ in a statement calling for the inclusion of the Greens in the debates while making no mention of the

SNP. I don’t recall seeing Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and predecessor Caroline Lucas leading a referendum campaign recently. Possibly because they were too caught up in a war with Brighton’s bin men over their Monday bacon rolls. No really, Google it. 


I’m glad the SNP lost their referendum, but hats off to them, they really fought a great campaign. One which is getting them recognition, it seems. A recent Guardian poll put the SNP on course to win 45 of 59 seats in Scotland. A “bloodbath” for Labour indeed. Surely all the more reason for Cameron to get behind the debates and include the SNP in them. Sticking up for the nationalists now may pay dividends when the probable power struggle emerges in mid-May with the result of a hung parliament. If David can show the SNP he can do business with them – as done already firstly in rubber-stamping the referendum and secondly in promising more devolution – he may, just may, be able to count on their self-serving pragmatism and form a majority government. 


Don’t call me psychic, but I don’t envisage the Green’s being able to offer such support. Therefore,

Dave, I urge you to get yourself in front of those cameras and debate! If not to prevent Ed, Nick and Nigel from taking the initiative, then because you are surrounded by right-wing backbenchers who are out for blood. And blood they may have if the Conservatives fail to poll well come May 7th.