Could David Cameron find himself under lock and key if Labour get their way? (Photo:Getty)
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Labour pledges law to ensure debates happen at every election

Labour are trying to keep the debates in people's minds - but if they're not careful, they run the risk of making fools themselves

A Labour government would legislate to make the televised debates a permanent part of public life, the party has announced. Speaking to the Observer, Ed Miliband said:

In recent days the British public has been treated to the unedifying and tawdry spectacle of a Prime Minister seeking to duck out of the TV debates he once claimed to support with great enthusiasm.

Yesterday the broadcasters made it clear they would not be cowed by his tactics but it is wrong for them and the British public to have governing parties use this kind of pressure in campaign periods.

It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people not the Prime Minister of the day. I am determined that no Prime Minister from whatever party should ever again be allowed to play fast and loose with these debates which are necessary in a healthy, modern democracy. It is time to do what so many other countries do and put on the planning of debates on a clearly established footing so that there can be no doubt that they will take place and people get the opportunity to make up their own minds about candidates for the post of Prime Minister.

What's the thinking here? The Labour leadership calculate that having the debates front and centre is now good news for them, almost regardless of what the story is. (The problem for Labour is that, while David Cameron's self-serving behaviour is not a great look, it's difficult to stretch the issue out across multiple days, which is why Downing Street believe they can get away with welshing on the debates.)  

In truth, the proposals are significantly less draconian than the top line of "Labour to force parties to take part in debates" would suggest. What the party is actually planning to do is to give the televised debates the same footing as party political broadcasts - a set number, at specific times - making the brinkmanship deployed by Cameron impossible to replicate in the future. 

But it runs the risk of making Labour look silly. The plans raise more questions than they answer: not least what happens in the event of a second election should the contest in May prove inconclusive. It has the feeling of an idea that has been sketched out on the back of a fag packet - and it could be that the laughing and pointing that Cameron has been subject to now turns to Ed Miliband.

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

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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