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.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

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

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