A smart move by Ed Miliband today to put pressure on David Cameron over the televised leaders’ debates next year. Every time the Prime Minister is asked about these debates, he makes supportive noises while muttering about the ‘right formula’, but doesn’t commit to anything. He has also said that he felt the debates ‘dominated’ the coverage of the 2010 election, which is as close as he’ll come to saying that Nick Clegg’s shiny new qualities at the time rather detracted from Cameron’s own appeal which his strategists had been setting so much store by.
But as the Prime Minister hasn’t agreed to anything, Labour’s trying to get ahead of the game and appear to drag Cameron into a studio. In an article for the Radio Times, the Labour leader argues that negotiations on the debates should start now. He also sent Michael Dugher out to bat on the Today programme, where he put in an impressive performance. He said:
‘Ed Miliband has appointed me to lead the negotiations for Labour, I’m pretty free all day. We could start this afternoon, I’ll put it in the diary if CCHQ are really keen to get on with it. But the truth is – and the broadcasters know this as well – that they are prevaricating, they are putting this off, because the truth is David Cameron doesn’t want to get on with the TV debates. And frankly, they’re called the prime ministerial debates but they should never be in the gift of the incumbent prime minister – they actually belong to the public.’
Bravo to Labour, who know they have the less polished performer in Ed Miliband. But they are also betting on that Flashman temper sending a few of the PM’s volleys into the net during the debates, and a possible complacency on Cameron’s part that Miliband is weird and easy to knock down.
P.S. Number 10 sources suggest Labour is trying to distract from the GDP figures by talking about the debates. It’s certainly easier to do so than for Labour to talk about economic recovery. But until Cameron knocks on Michael Dugher’s door, the Opposition will be able to dig out the debates every time the ONS puts out a good statistical release.