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Tory concerns over leaders' TV debates grow

Brown has most to gain from television debates

When I suggested a couple of weeks ago that Gordon Brown had much to gain from televised debates between the party leaders, many disagreed. But over at ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie reflects some of the fears inside Tory circles:

My concern about these debates is very simple. The Conservatives have too much to lose when we are comfortably ahead in the opinion polls and therefore have to be very careful about the formats we are willing to accept. I hope . . . Team Cameron is insisting on just one or two debates.

The initial consensus was that the articulate and suave Cameron would emerge victorious from the debates, but there is a growing belief that Brown's forensic attention to detail could overwhelm the Tory leader. It is particularly significant that the Conservatives are opposed to policy-based debates on the economy, public services and foreign affairs.

The damage that policy scrutiny can do to the Tories was shown when gay support for the party fell by 17 per cent after its alliance with homophobic European parties received greater exposure.

Montgomerie also repeats his call for Nick Clegg to be excluded from "one of the debates" -- a demand which, particularly in the run-up to a possible hung parliament, broadcasters should reject. Chris Huhne is justified in complaining today about the persistent media bias against the Lib Dems:

Even where Labour and Conservative views are nearly identical -- such as on crime, Afghanistan or Iraq -- news organisations evidently feel they can eliminate the Liberal Democrat viewpoint in the interests of simple, adversarial debate. The idea that there might be more than two points of view in an argument is normal in other European democracies, but not here.

Reporters even refer to "both parties" or "both main parties" as if we were still in the Fifties-style two-party system, which is deeply insulting to voters who do not live in Labour-Conservative battlegrounds. Forty per cent of parliamentary seats have the Liberal Democrats in first or second place.

Leaders' debates should be designed to ameliorate this injustice, not reinforce it.