Cameron has more excuses not to agree to debate. Photo: Getty
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"I want to go and debate": David Cameron on the televised leaders' debates

The Prime Minister has said he would only agree to the TV debates under certain circumstances.

It is 100 days until the general election, and what seems like the 100th development in the sorry saga that is the televised leaders' debates.

This morning, speaking on the BBC's Today programme, David Cameron came the closest he has so far to saying he will take part in the TV debates. However, he caveated his response by saying that he would only participate under certain circumstances.

The very simple question put to him was: "Is it your intention to take part in the television debates?"

He replied:

Yes, I’d like that to happen. But if you include one minor party, Ukip, you have to include another minor party, the Greens . . . The broadcasters have gone rather further than I expected . . . You can’t have someone from Plaid Cymru and the SNP without someone from Northern Ireland, so they’ve got in a bit of a muddle over that.

Pushed on whether he will definitely take part, Cameron would only go so far as to say, "I want to go and debate" and "We've got to get on with these debates".

The circumstances under which he would participate include representation of Northern Ireland in the debates – the DUP and Sinn Fein have so far been left out by the broadcasters – and also to broadcast the debates as soon as possible, before the election campaign.

On the first demand, as George reported last week, it looks like the PM is using the DUP's absence as another excuse not to agree to the debates, as he did when the Greens had been excluded from the panels. Also, the Tories are preparing for the circumstances of having to do a deal with the DUP behind the scenes in anticipation of a hung parliament.

On the second demand, Cameron argued that the television debates during the 2010 election would have been "better outside the election campaign" because "they took the life out of the campaign, because nobody could talk about anything else".

Cameron is coming under increasing pressure to agree to take part, as the broadcasters are coming up with new formats to satisfy the PM's wishes, and his rival party leaders are painting him as a coward for his reticence. Nigel Farage has called Cameron a "chicken" on the issue, and Ed Miliband has accused him of "running scared".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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