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.

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The 5 things the Tories aren't telling you about their manifesto

Turns out the NHS is something you really have to pay for after all. 

When Theresa May launched the Conservative 2017 manifesto, she borrowed the most popular policies from across the political spectrum. Some anti-immigrant rhetoric? Some strong action on rip-off energy firms? The message is clear - you can have it all if you vote Tory.

But can you? The respected thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has now been through the manifesto with a fine tooth comb, and it turns out there are some things the Tory manifesto just doesn't mention...

1. How budgeting works

They say: "a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade"

What they don't say: The Conservatives don't talk very much about new taxes or spending commitments in the manifesto. But the IFS argues that balancing the budget "would likely require more spending cuts or tax rises even beyond the end of the next parliament."

2. How this isn't the end of austerity

They say: "We will always be guided by what matters to the ordinary, working families of this nation."

What they don't say: The manifesto does not backtrack on existing planned cuts to working-age welfare benefits. According to the IFS, these cuts will "reduce the incomes of the lowest income working age households significantly – and by more than the cuts seen since 2010".

3. Why some policies don't make a difference

They say: "The Triple Lock has worked: it is now time to set pensions on an even course."

What they don't say: The argument behind scrapping the "triple lock" on pensions is that it provides an unneccessarily generous subsidy to pensioners (including superbly wealthy ones) at the expense of the taxpayer.

However, the IFS found that the Conservatives' proposed solution - a "double lock" which rises with earnings or inflation - will cost the taxpayer just as much over the coming Parliament. After all, Brexit has caused a drop in the value of sterling, which is now causing price inflation...

4. That healthcare can't be done cheap

They say: "The next Conservative government will give the NHS the resources it needs."

What they don't say: The £8bn more promised for the NHS over the next five years is a continuation of underinvestment in the NHS. The IFS says: "Conservative plans for NHS spending look very tight indeed and may well be undeliverable."

5. Cutting immigration costs us

They say: "We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs." 

What they don't say: The Office for Budget Responsibility has already calculated that lower immigration as a result of the Brexit vote could reduce tax revenues by £6bn a year in four years' time. The IFS calculates that getting net immigration down to the tens of thousands, as the Tories pledge, could double that loss.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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