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22 January 2015
The debate over TV debates may be a waste of time

The debate over TV debates may be a waste of time

David Cameron wants to debate everyone. Nothing would give him greater pleasure.

If he could, he would come to your house and debate you, this instant, on any topic you name.

With this in mind, it would be easy to assume the Prime Minister would have welcomed a TV debate before the general election, when Ofcom released its draft plans for party shares of media coverage earlier this month.

But unfortunately he was unable to do so, because although the regulator’s proposals included the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and Ukip as ‘major parties’, Cameron felt it would have been unfair to go ahead if the Greens were excluded.

Few people had realised how much the Prime Minister valued the Greens. In fact some would say he was almost at the polar opposite end of the mainstream political spectrum from Caroline Lucas’s party.

But this was obviously not the case – maybe the attachment began when he was out hugging those huskies in the Arctic. 

Miliband meanwhile, likes debating so much that he apparently would rather disagree with a bacon sandwich than eat it. He wanted the debates to go ahead so badly that he would do it without the Greens, or even without Cameron if necessary.

"The whole thing has been tricky, like organising a dinner party where everyone hates each other"

In fact the Labour leader recently suggested that broadcasters go ahead with the debate and just leave an empty chair if Cameron did not show up.

Miliband would still debate the chair if he had to. Who knows, he may even have won.

So the whole thing has been tricky, like organising a dinner party where everyone hates each other. Cameron probably feels like Mrs Dalloway – except she only had one party to organise.

Others though took a more cynical view, suggesting Cameron’s position was driven by his fear of losing support to Ukip, while Miliband was scared of having his vote split by the Greens and, in Scotland, the SNP.

But anyway, the good news is that it looks like viewers will not be subjected to the sight of Miliband cack-handedly dodging questions posed by empty furniture, with the BBC and ITV today proposing to hold debates featuring the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Now this doesn’t mean they will go ahead, since it is still possible the Tories and Labour will close ranks to avoid the inclusion of Ukip, the Greens and the SNP in an effort to avert mutually assured destruction.

It is still not clear what effect the TV debates between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond had in the referendum campaign, while the 2010 general election debates were widely considered the trigger for the explosion of ‘Cleggmania’ – though strangely that has not been enough to stop them from ever going ahead again.

But although it is easy to see why the Greens and the SNP want to be invited to the party, the debate behind the debate may be a waste of time. 

After all the fuss, whether or not appearing will actually boost a party’s electoral chances is still up for debate.

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