It was the debate about the TV debates that yet again dominated today’s PMQs. Ed Miliband’s decision to lead on the subject reflected the weakness of David Cameron’s stance and the guaranteed broadcast coverage that results. The Prime Minister’s position appeared more contradictory and absurd than ever as he lashed Miliband for having “no policies” and “no plan” while simultaneously rejecting a head-to-head contest with him. He went on to repeatedly avoid the subject by launching his strongest attack yet on Labour’s refusal to rule out a post-election deal with the SNP, warning of an “alliance between the people who want to bankrupt Brtain and the people who want to break up Britain”.
Miliband had the edge in the Chamber and Cameron’s evasiveness will have been clear to anyone watching. Labour take heart from polls showing that the majority of the public want the debates to happen and regard the PM as the main obstacle. But the problem is how little salience this issue has. Few if any votes will be changed by Cameron’s rejectionism. It is, fundamentally, a process story largely of interest to the Westminster media.
Far better would have been for Miliband to lead on defence spending (exploiting a Conservative divide) as two of his MPs, Stella Creasy and Gisela Stuart, did. Alternatively, he could have raised the remarkable figures published by Labour today, showing a 49 per cent rise in long-term youth unemployment among BAME communities. With just two PMQs now remaining before the general election, today’s session felt like a wasted opportunity.
Meanwhile, the tediousness of the debate about the debates is perhaps the best argument for having them.