Ed Miliband addresses Scottish Labour conference. (Image: Getty)
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Ed Miliband confirms he will attend the leaders' debates

Ed Miliband has given David Cameron both barrels as he aims to keep the pressure on the Prime Minister.

Ed Miliband has confirmed he will attend the televised debates. In his speech to the Scottish Labour party, Miliband poured scorn on David Cameron's attempts to get out of the debates:

“This is what David Cameron used to say about TV election debates:

That they were essential to our democracy.

That every country apart from Mongolia had them.

That he wasn’t going to have any feeble excuses to get out of debates.

And now he is doing everything he can to stop them.

And it is on the issue of leadership debates that David Cameron’s duplicity has caught up with him.

He says this election is all about leadership, all about the choice between him and me, and when it comes to a debate between him and me, he’s running scared.

He’s running away.

I say to David Cameron:

You can refuse to face the public, but you can’t deny your record.

You can try to chicken out of the debates, but don’t ever again claim that you provide strong leadership,

You can try to escape the people’s debates, but you can’t escape the people’s verdict.

Today the Labour Party has written to the broadcasters.

Saying with or without David Cameron, I will be at the debates.

And every day up to these debates he will be asked: what are you hiding from?

When all people will see is an empty chair, his claims of leadership will be exposed as empty.”

As I blogged yesterday, Labour's tails are up and they feel that the debates row will strengthen Miliband whatever the outcome. But Nick Clegg is likely to be rebuffed in his attempts to replace David Cameron in the head-to-head. As a senior Labour source told me yesterday: "That debate is between the people who have a chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next election."

Letter from Douglas Alexander, Chair of General Election Strategy, to Sue Inglish, chair of the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group:

 

Dear Sue,

 

We have followed with interest your exchange of letters over the last 48 hours with the Conservative Party, and in particular your reiteration that it is the intention of the broadcasters to stage Leaders Election Debates live on television on the 2nd, 16th and 30th April.

 

We believe these debates represent a huge opportunity to engage millions of voters in the election campaign and they are a rare opportunity for the public to see the leaders of the main political engaging directly on the big issues facing Britain.

 

I am therefore today writing on behalf of the Labour party to confirm that Ed Miliband will take up your offer to participate in all three of the proposed debates.

Like you, we hope that David Cameron and the Conservative party will take this opportunity to conclude that these debates are in the public interest and that not showing up will not just be damaging to the Conservative party but to our democracy as well.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.