Endless debates about TV debates

Surprise move: David Cameron appointed Craig Oliver

I’m not going to rehearse the debate about TV election debates; I’ve made clear I think they should happen and will happen in the short campaign.

But I think it’s worth noting that in trying to do David Cameron’s bidding in scuppering the debates, Craig OIiver seems to have managed to achieve the worst of all worlds.

Cameron consistently said he thought they sucked the life out of the 2010 campaign – although politicians are always likely to say this about debates they haven’t won.

Still, the Prime Minister’s determination not to let them take place again has led to a confrontation with the broadcasters at precisely the wrong point in the electoral calendar.

I know Craig from ITN and he’s a smart operator. But it’s clear he thought the broadcasters would back down when faced with a point-blank refusal from No 10.

That strategy has blown up in his face because of a surprisingly firm response from the broadcasters.

Now Labour’s chicken charge is sticking, it’s getting traction with the public, and that can only get worse from now on.

If Cameron doesn’t take part in the debates, he’s a chicken. If he does take part, he’s a flip-flop chicken.

Downing Street’s only hope for a way out of the impasse is a failure of nerve and splits among the broadcasters to emerge. Cue Lord Grade.

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UK election leaders’ debates to go ahead

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We’re doing it with or without you is the threat from the broadcasters.

ITV, BBC, Sky and Channel 4 have offered a new formula for the televised leaders’ debates.¬†One debate with the Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition alone; and two debates with the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru.

The debates would take place during the General Election campaign – with proposed dates of 2,16 and 30 April.

That sounds like a tough couple of programmes to produce. Presumably we’re now into the formal realms of “You have a minute to state your position on the NHS”.

But equally, it’s very hard to see how David Cameron can continue to refuse to take part without the “frit” allegation sticking. He wanted the minor parties, he’s got the minor parties.

Expect complaints from the DUP, Respect and others though.