Lord Mandelson has ‘all but committed’ Gordon Brown to facing a ‘head-to-head’ debate with David Cameron according to The Times. I think it would be fair of Liberal Democrats at this point to protest ‘well where is Nick Clegg?’ Commanding the third largest group of MP’s in Westminster surely should entitle you to representation at one of these slugfests? It does after all entitle you to a paltry two questions at Prime Ministers Questions.
One of the plus points of such a debate is that we would see more of a dialogue than we see at PMQ’s particularly between Nick Clegg and David Cameron who rarely acknowledge each others presence other than in sideswipes. The Times does go onto say Clegg would ‘almost certainly’ be involved but that doesn’t guarantee anything and Clegg’s unsure status actually points to the problem with these kind of debates in the first place. What are the criteria for inclusion? Does Caroline Lucas or Nigel Farage have a case to push to be included? Another issue is that although these kind of debates do happen in the US they have no equivalent of Prime Ministers Questions where the two leaders regularly face-off and are open to comparison and as we know they frequently generate more heat than light.
Given Mandleson’s comments, initially given in an interview for the Evening Standard, it is hard not to see this as a desperate gambit;
“While Cameron is good with words, he doesn’t have the ideas or policies to back them. I think people would see through the smile.
“The more the public sees of them, the more they’d realise that Gordon is the man with the substance.”
Surely, if your main charge against the opposition leader is that he is giving the voters some of the ol’ razzel dazzle then the last thing you want to do is put him in front of a TV screen against your dour and dogged champion? I can’t help but feel that this is another gimmick from the master of gimmickry whose magic can’t quite burnish this tired Labour government.