It seems after months of wrangling and negotiating that David Cameron will not be participating in the TV debates. In reality we all knew this was going to happen. Why? Well, it was a known fact that the incumbent has everything to lose by appearing in a TV debate with a challenger. A one-on-one dual or even a seven-way debate makes Cameron look like any other candidate, rather than the sitting Prime Minister. It elevates the candidates onto the same level as the Prime Minister, something which no incumbent ever wants to do. This may seem like a small issue, but it really isn’t. Last year we watched Farage tearing up Nick Clegg. Farage made Clegg (who had performed well in the 2010 TV debates) look like yesterday’s man and further damaged Clegg’s electoral credibility. The danger is that in the polls, Miliband is struggling and Labour is falling. Miliband’s leadership has damaged their electoral chances.
A professional and inspired performance could turn his popularity around; at least that is what the party hopes. The expectations for Miliband are so low, so long as he doesn’t fall down on the stage he’ll beat his expectations. As there will be several candidates on the stage this will make it harder to spectacularly fail as well, Miliband will merely be another face among the crowd. The debates might well be of little importance if they end up in the format as presented. Rather than a clean cut contest which would dazzle the viewer with sound bites worked on for hours by PR teams, now we’ll see leaders with little to no chance of entering government arguing amongst themselves over ridiculous policies which many of the leaders will have little idea of; Farage and Bennett I’m looking at you. Anyone who understand political tactics in Britain would find it difficult to argue that Cameron is making a mistake.
However, is this a strategic mistake by Cameron and his team? It is true the debates have little saliency among voters. This means few, if any people, will change their votes because of participation in the debates. Although, for another session of Prime Ministers questions, the debates held the substantive part of the questioning, the debates have been ‘the story’ for a while now and it shows no signs of stopping. This could become an issue, as Cameron’s team were hoping that not taking part would merely mean take a small beating before a swift dusting off. The Conservative’ are prepared to take that beating in the short-term than run the risk of engaging in the debates and losing horribly. Their election chances would have taken an irreparable blow.
The idea that the debates won’t feature among the discourse of the election is clearly not the case though, because for some reason Labour believes it will be the key to unlock the door to Number 10. The Conservatives are busy getting the message out about the economy, wages rising, more university places, the budget deficit being reduced etc. Labour are spending time illuminating the public on why Cameron is refusing to debate. But this new electioneering for Labour doesn’t seem to be working, with the Conservatives surging past the 30 percentage point, polling above Labour. There is still a long way to go before the election. Labour are too passionate about having the debates and using them as bait. They just need to get on with the election.
By Sam Mace, Senior Writer for Daily Political View.