Don’t blame Cameron. A sitting PM would be mad to agree to TV debates

The gap between being in opposition and government is thrown into sharp relief by the debate (squabble?) around televised election debates.

Don’t blame David Cameron for not wanting to have them. No sitting prime minister in his or her right mind would willingly choose to participate. The stakes are stacked against you from the start.

Most obviously, you are defending a record while the other participants are free to attack it.

What’s more, the prep time needed to brief a prime minister is massively greater than that needed to pick at their record.

For a leader more popular than his party, having Cameron grounded in London rehearsing how he defends his record across the board is wasted time for the Tories.

Prime ministers, even those as callow as David Cameron, appreciate that being in government is a complex business.

It’s made harder by the fact that a prime ministerial brain will be stacked full of the nuance of policy issues, making instant snappy rebuttals hard to craft on the hoof.

It’s hard to retrain your brain from governing in prose to campaigning in poetry. Ask Gordon Brown.

Anyway, as the old adage goes, “if you’re explaining you’re not winning.”

Finally, why would a prime minister, who is pitching his campaign on being tried and tested, willing put himself on a par with the other party leaders?

Why lose whatever advantage is gained from bestriding national and international affairs as prime minister by relegating your status to become a mere party leader once again?

David Cameron and his team have come to realise all this. They can see there is little upside for their man in participating.

He is better suited to dishing out a rough ride in the Commons’ chamber – pointing the barrel of his blunderbuss at Ed Miliband – rather than staring sincerely down the barrel of a television camera.

The short term hit in accused of being “frit” about skipping the debates will pass. The broadcasters will buckle and won’t dare to “empty chair” him.

Some enterprising newspaper may pop into this space and webcast a debate instead. That would be the obvious move, but all Cameron has to do is agree to set-piece one-on-one interviews with the snubbed broadcasters to reclaim the agenda if it slips from his grasp during the campaign.

The telly will always make room to interview the PM.

Even if they don’t love him today.

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4 Responses to “Don’t blame Cameron. A sitting PM would be mad to agree to TV debates”

  1. Richard Gadsden says:

    Look how badly Obama – a far superior politician to any of our major party leaders – did in his first debate against Romney; it took him until the second to get back into that “campaigning in poetry” mode.

    And Obama’s actually good at it, which Cameron isn’t.

    The question is whether the other parties (and the media) can nail him for running away hard enough to make the price for not debating greater than the price for losing. I’m not convinced that they can’t do so. The broadcasters might well have the guts to empty chair him, or, at least, bluff credibly enough that it’s a risk he isn’t prepared to take

  2. BenM says:

    You forgot to mention it’s Ed Miliband’s fault.

    Actually I think Cameron has misjudged this. For a long while the Tories have been posiing like they’re 5 or 6 points clear in the polls when in fact they’re still behind.

    And Cameron’s hissy fit has just demonstrated to the floating voters who are making the Tories trail in the polls exactly why those floating voters are making the Tories trail in the polls!

  3. Tafia says:

    Isn’t there something about the TV companies wanting the second debate on or after April 30th, which is 9 days or more after the postal voting starts, effectively ruling out 3 million voters. Whereas Cameron wants all the debates done and dusted before postal voting starts – which the TVs won’t do because there is no viewing demand that far in advance of the election itself and the TVs are interested in the event itself, but the viewers it will attract.

  4. Ex Labour says:

    If anyone ever watches Question Time or listens to Radio 4 Today program will realise that the deck will be stacked against a Tory PM by the lefties at the Beeb. Cameron is on a loser before he even turns up – so why would he put himself in that position ?

    The country thinks Miliband is a twat and thats the way the Tories want him portrayed. Camerson makes mince meat of him at every PMQ, and dont forget Farage challenged Miliband to a debate which he ran away from.

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