Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Political party leaders agree plan for historic live TV debates.

TV debates between political candidates have long been a staple of American elections, but there has never been a British version of this.

Now, surprisingly, it has come to pass. I say surprisingly because, until now, the party leading in the polls has always refused to take part, working on the assumption that they have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

David Cameron, who is way ahead in every poll in Britain, is therefore taking a great risk by agreeing to debate Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg on national TV.

The parties and main TV channels have been negotiating on the format of the debates for months, but they announced today they had reached agreement on the details and format they will take.

It has been agreed that three programmes will be broadcast in peak time in front of studio audiences. Each will be between 85 and 90 minutes long. About half of each debate will be themed.

ITV is to stage the first debate, which will be presented by Alistair Stewart. Sky will produce the second debate presented by Adam Boulton, and David Dimbleby will present the final programme on the BBC. It has yet to be decided whether questions will be posed by presenters or members of the public in the audience. The format excludes Channel Four and parties such as the Greens, Ukip and nationalists.

Cameron is, in effect, throwing a lifeline to Gordon Brown by giving him the chance to play on his experience on the international stage.

I believe Cameron to be a political lightweight, a man short on actual policy, and wonder if he will manage to get through a debate whilst relying on the vague soundbites which have so far sustained him.

It's a high risk strategy for Cameron and one which I wonder if he has properly thought through.

Some Tory activists admitted doubts at Cameron's decision, fearing the novelty of the TV debate means they would become a central focus of the campaign.

Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website said: "Heading for a massive defeat, Gordon Brown has been given a lifeline by these TV debates. They will also be a big boost for Nick Clegg. He will be given a status that the third party in British politics has never had before. I hope the Conservative headquarters does not live to regret this decision."

Brown has been heading for certain defeat, and that should still be the case, but Cameron has given Brown a chance to shine that Thatcher would never have allowed any opponent.

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