6 Mar 2015

Cameron’s bluff called in election debate stand-off?

Britain’s main broadcasters say they are sticking to plans for three televised leaders’ debates in the election campaign – a decision the prime minister’s spokesman called “disappointing”.

Craig Oliver, Mr Cameron’s chief spin doctor, restated the prime minister’s demand for a single debate involving seven party leaders.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was willing and ready to take part in all three debates: “It’s make-your-mind-up time for David Cameron.”

Jonathan Levy, director of news gathering at Sky News, told Channel 4 News his organisation would be happy to host a debate between the prime minister and Ed Miliband whenever they wanted to do it.

As for a larger debate involving the seven main party leaders, Mr Levy said he wanted the leaders of the two biggest parties to be there, but pointed out that the leaders of the six of the seven parties were insisting that the debates take place during the election period – “They are, after all, election debates.”

He concluded: “[The debates] are important. They should happen. That’s the point.”

‘Arrogant rejection’

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg rejected the suggestion that David Cameron does not want the debates to happen.

“David Cameron said he would participate in a debate at an earlier stage so that it didn’t take over the whole of the election campaign,” he said, “and the broadcasters arrogantly rejected his offer.”

Asked how the party leaders were expected to debate election politics ahead of the publication of the manifestos, Mr Rees-Mogg told Krishnan Guru-Murthy: “It’s debating the record of this government, what it has achieved, its stunning achievements in welfare reform, in getting the economy right, in education reform – and that’s the major part of the debate.

“Most of the policies the parties are going to bring forward are already well known.”

‘Not a two-party system’

The Tory member for North East Somerset said this election was very different from the campaign in 2010, when the debate involved three leaders representing 90 per cent of the electorate.

“This time the 90 per cent figure is made up by a whole swathe of parties, which is what the prime minister has agreed to do (…) A head-off between the two Labour and Conservative leaders would only be covering about 60 per cent of the vote.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said that if such a debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband took place in the middle of the election campaign, that would be saying that it was basically a two-party system – “which we’re not any more”.