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. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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