Cameron commits to TV debates in 2015

After being accused by Labour of "running scared", Cameron says "we should go on having" TV debates.

After David Cameron declared that the TV debates "took all the life" out of the 2010 election campaign, there was much debate about whether he was, in the words of Labour, "running scared". Cameron told a press gallery lunch: "I think we could learn from last time. I have got an open mind and there is still two and a half years to go before we have to really think about it." The debates are viewed by Conservative strategists as one reason for the party's failure to win a majority in 2010.

But asked by Sky News's Adam Boulton at this afternoon's press conference with Nick Clegg whether he was in favour of the debates, Cameron was less equivocal. "I'm in favour of them, I think they are good and I think we should go on having them, and I will play my part in trying to make that happen," he said. After those words it will be harder for Cameron to avoid the debates in 2015, but the phrase "trying to make them happen" does leave him with some wriggle room.

One question that will arise is whether Nigel Farage should be included in the debates. If UKIP continue to poll at their current level and perform well in the European elections in 2014 (potentially even winning them) and future by-elections, Farage will push for a place. But since all three of the main parties have a mutual interest in avoiding the inclusion of "none of the above" candidate, it is hard to see his wish being granted.

David Cameron said of the TV debates: "I think they're good, I think we should go on having them". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.