David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday on June 30, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Could a Clegg-Farage debate be followed by a Cameron-Miliband debate?

The Tories could use a debate between the Lib Dem leader and his UKIP opposite to argue for the head-to-head contest they want between the two main leaders.

Nick Clegg's decision to challenge Nigel Farage to a head-to-head debate on the EU is the latest stage of his attempt to frame the Lib Dems as "the party of in" against UKIP, "the party of out". Europhilia might not be a popular stance in British politics but Clegg's calculation is that an unambiguously pro-European pitch will appeal to his party's target audience. He said on his LBC show this morning: "I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the European Union. That’s the choice facing the British people.

"He is the leader of the party of OUT, I am the leader of the party of IN. It’s time for a proper public debate so that the public can listen to the arguments and decide for themselves."

Farage has responded by demanding that Cameron and Miliband are also included "in order that the British people can see all their main political leaders argue their positions". With that condition unlikely to be met (Cameron will never debate Farage), it is unclear whether he will take Clegg alone. We are told that Farage "will give a full response to this development on LBC tomorrow morning". 

But what of the main leaders' debates? The Lib Dems and Labour are ready to sign up for the "333" model: three debates between three leaders over three weeks. But the Tories, who blame the debates in party for their failure to win a majority in 2010, are stalling. Cameron has long complained that the debates "sucked the life" out of the campaign and is wary of committing to a repeat. 

But one option under discussion in Conservative circles, as I first reported last September, is a one-on-one debate between Cameron and Ed Miliband, ideally before the campaign begins. Aware that Cameron outpolls both his party and Miliband, the Tories have long intended to frame the election as a presidential contest ("do you want David Cameron or Ed Miliband as your prime minister?") and a debate would be the ideal way to amplify this impression. A one-on-one debate between Cameron and Miliband would also eliminate the need to specifically exclude Nigel Farage. Conservative whip Greg Hands gave the game away when he tweeted during the German leaders' debate: "Interesting that German TV debate only has the leaders of the two parties who could conceivably be the Chancellor. No FDP, Greens, etc". 

A Farage-Clegg debate could provide the Tories with the opening they need to argue explicitly for a Cameron-Miliband debate. As the europhile and the europhobe play in the corner, they can declare that it's time for the two men fighting to become prime minister to take each other on. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Zac Goldsmith is running a patronising and poisonous campaign

When he's not pretending to love Bollywood, he's blowing on the dog whistle, says Seema Malhotra. 

Here’s some movie recommendations for Zac Goldsmith:  Fan, Kapoor & Sons, Rocky Handsome. These are just a few of the current Indian blockbusters a “big fan” of Bollywood might have on the tip of his tongue. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of London thought he would impress voters of Indian heritage by talking of his love of Bollywood.  But he couldn’t name a single title.

This would be funny if it wasn’t typical of a Conservative election campaign which is both patronising and poisonous.

Diversity is one of the strengths of London as a world city. It helped us win the Olympics and deliver an event that was met with praise around the world. The economic benefits for the city of having communities with links with countries around the world are huge. Inward investment and tourism are among the obvious benefits.

Our history has seen us chose diversity and equality as the values we subscribe to as a nation. Sadiq was ahead of the game in calling for a One London Mayor who will unite our many communities, creating the conditions for shared prosperity and security for all our families and businesses.

Sadiq Khan is the candidate for all Londoners – with a hugely contrasting campaign Zac Goldsmith is sowing division and distrust between communities.

Take the leaflets sent to voters with Indian, Sri Lankan or Tamil sounding names claiming there is a threat to tax family jewellery. It’s a scare story that is deeply patronising. It suggests the target voters aren’t interested in the big issues facing this great city – the housing crisis, rocketing fares, air pollution and the problems facing small businesses.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has become becomes poisonous as well as patronising, because it effectively asks people to reject Sadiq Khan because he is a Muslim. Of course, the Conservatives don’t say it out right. Using smears and innuendoes it seeks to portray Sadiq as an extremist.  This goes way beyond the normal electoral struggle between two parties. It is divisive and dangerous. It is harming community relations and damaging London’s reputation in the rest of the world. Driving wedges between us is in no one's long term interest.

Some Conservatives seek to defend the Goldsmith campaign by pointing to the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I accept that we in the Labour party do have a problem, and we know it is a problem in wider society also. But there is one big difference. In the Labour party, the leadership – Jeremy Corbyn and the whole of the Shadow Cabinet are committed to rooting out this evil, along with Islamophobia and other forms of hate crime we know are on the rise.

In the Tory party, by contrast, David Cameron is deeply involved in a campaign based on thinly disguised racism – an appeal to people to vote on along ethnic lines.

The low point in the Tory campaign came in a Goldsmith article in the Mail on Sunday seeking to link Sadiq Khan to the 7/7 terrorist bombings which was illustrated with a picture of the wreckage of bus from that awful day.

There are many decent Tories disgusted that their party is sinking so low. Former Tory chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi condemned the the article, saying it was "not the Zac Goldsmith I know." She asked: "Are we Conservatives fighting to destroy Zac or fighting to win this election.

The celebrated Conservative journalist Peter Oborne said “Goldsmith's campaign for mayor has become “the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter”. 

He said the claims that Sadiq Khan is an extremist are “absurd” In fact, he said “Khan is a mainstream Labour politician who has dedicated his career to advocating centrist views…He is a strong opponent of anti-Semitism. He has campaigned constantly against reactionary and so-called "extremist" forces within the Muslim communities.

Shazia Awan was a Tory candidate in the General Election. She is alarmed at what she sees as attempts to “create a wedge and vitriolic rhetoric between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims.” She sees Zac Goldsmith as a man “too weak to stand up to those directing his campaign, and as a result ruining his own reputation and credibility in the fickle pursuit of power.”

Sadiq Khan has been dignified and reasonable in the face of this Tory poison. He is by nature a unifier, fighting for human rights and strong communities and against extremism.

I believe he has been winning the arguments on the issues that matter to Londoners and that is reflected in the opinion polls and the bookmakers’ odds. We have learned to distrust opinion polls but it is clear that Zac Goldsmith believes he is losing and losing badly.

But he should remember this: There is one thing worse than losing. It is losing with dishonour. 

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.