To debate or not debate? That is the question for Cameron

February 20, 2014 4:23 pm

Nick wants to debate with Nigel. Nigel will give his answer on Friday, but seems to want Dave and Ed to take part as well. Dave and Ed – who knows what they want?

Nick Clegg’s ‘calling out’ of Nigel Farage (during his weekly LBC call-in when it could hardly be missed) was an astute move from a party leader pilloried for his courting of a 2015 coalition of Labour and under attack from members of his own party for suggestions their election manifesto might be written so as not prevent a coalition with either the Tories or Labour. The Lib Dems are expected to be routed in the elections and Mr Clegg knows he has nothing to lose from a debate that would allow him a platform to unite his party behind a common interest and speak directly to the public. Plus, as those remembering 2010 will testify, Mr Clegg is pretty handy in a debate.

The other party leaders are now in a bit of a quandary. Nigel Farage and Ukip could benefit from the profile it would give them alongside the established political parties (or at least one of them), but could have their anti-EU arguments undermined publicly by a skilled debater such as the Deputy PM. Ukip’s immediate questioning of whether David Cameron and Ed Miliband would share the stage is a good move that could place the UKIP leader on the stage as the PM but equally provides a get out of jail free card if Dave and Ed decide a debate just isn’t for them.

Ed Miliband would benefit from the platform to display statesman-like qualities, as while his party enjoys a lead in the polls, Mr Miliband lags behind Mr Cameron in the public’s perception. But, if he fails to perform, the questions over Mr Miliband as a future PM will loom larger than ever.

The question is what Mr Cameron will do. On the face of it, there’s not much in it for him. The Tories are unlikely to have a stunning performance in the European elections and participating in a debate would probably highlight their eventual result. And what would Mr Cameron say that wouldn’t put him at odds with elements of his own party whose views are closer to those of Nigel Farage than of a leader with whom relations have occasionally been strained?

Nick Clegg has issued an interesting and elegant challenge. The jury’s out on whether his fellow party leaders take the bait.

 

Chris Rogers

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