26 Sep 2009

Labour: ‘fightback’ or ‘fag-end’?

The battle is on to define Labour’s last conference before the general election. The Tories say it’s the dying gasp of a party that’s on its last legs.

Labour argues that with policies like the shift of £1bn from the NHS capital (building) fund to bring cancer referrals down to one week, it proves there are “big choice” dividing lines between the parties that go beyond the “cut now” versus “cut later” debate.

Then there’s the question of a debate itself – a TV one.  Aides to Mr Brown acknowledge that they are “seriously looking at it” and it seems likely that Labour will in the next 24 to 28 hours give the go-ahead to debates at leader and other levels (so Darling versus Osborne and Cable; Johnson versus Grayling and Huhne; Miliband versus Hague and Davey).

It would be a radical change to party electioneering in this country. Gordon Brown and David Cameron could well end up debating more than once (with Nick Clegg presumably present on most if not all occasions?). 

A new institution will have been born in UK elections. No-one will be able to duck out of these contests again.

Much could hinge on a momentary slip or flash of temper under pressure in the studio lights … or not.

These gladiatorial contests could turn out to be underwhelming, too polished, no spur to turnout.

There will be acres of coverage about how grumpy Gordon might or might not out debate smooth David … one subplot is that TV debates could put booster rockets under Lib Dem coverage.

Would it work to their advantage? Will debates actually change anything? We look like we are about to embark on a very interesting experiment.

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