“Work with us to keep the Tories out of government!”
“If we work together, we can lock Cameron out of Number 10.”
“We have a chance to kick David Cameron out of Downing Street. Don’t turn your back on it, people will never forgive you…”
Rabble, rabble, rabble.
To watch the leaders of Labour, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party plead with the audience – and each other – at last night’s BBC Election “Challengers” Debate, you would think that Britain faced the awful prospect of some fascist or totalitarian party seizing power on 8 May this year, thus requiring all decent people to put aside their differences and band together in solidarity against a visceral, urgent threat to our way of life.
But the hideous spectre conjured by Ed Miliband, Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett is not a latter-day Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin – or even a contemporary African tin-pot dictator. No, we are asked to believe that the mortal threat to Britain and her people comes in the pale, patrician form of David Cameron – who has already held the top job for five years without successfully summoning the apocalypse – perhaps propped up by the equally unthreatening Nigel Farage (Nigel being just the type of fearsome name that strikes terror into the heart of even the bravest soul).
The British left is used to preaching to the choir and percolating in its own intellectual laziness, having long ago purged from the bubble anyone who doesn’t reflexively Hate the Tories and abhor right-wing ideas. But today we witnessed Britain’s four left wing party leaders construct and imprison themselves in a bubble of their own making, right on the stage at Westminster Central Hall.
From the BBC’s account of the debate:
The new political week picks up exactly where last week left off, with much of the right-wing press waging a furious rearguard effort to distract attention from David Cameron’s cowardly attempt to scupper the televised leaders’ debates.
The Telegraph in particular is hitting back at the near-universal condemnation of the Prime Minister with nearly the same intensity with which they defended themselves against ex-columnist Peter Oborne’s devastating accusations of compromised editorial standards relating to the newspaper’s coverage of HSBC, an important advertiser.
But now some in the Tory-friendly media have outdone themselves, accusing those who criticise David Cameron’s weaselling out of the television debates and who want to see such debates permanently enshrined in the British political calendar of harbouring “totalitarian” instincts.
Graeme Archer writes in his latest Telegraph column:
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a supposed Conservative, is so terrified of debating Labour’s ineffectual leader that he is refusing to take part in planned televised leaders’ debates ahead of the general election. But rather than excoriating David Cameron for refusing to articulate conservative, small government principles to a national audience, the Tory-friendly press is squandering its credibility defending him. Why?
You can work out the party allegiance of any British newspaper simply by observing its coverage of David Cameron’s craven refusal to give the people what they want, a series of televised pre-election debates featuring the Prime Minister and the leaders of various other parties.
But while British newspapers have a dubious tradition of naked partisanship, not remotely confined to the editorial section, it is disheartening to view the speed with which much of the Conservative-friendly press has been willing to throw the national interest and the health of our democracy out the window in the attempt to shore up David Cameron’s indefensible position.
The Telegraph is the worst offender, clearly not the least bit chastened after having been caught red-handed in the process of dismantling the “Chinese wall” between their commercial and editorial operations in their desperation to keep scandal-plagued HSBC’s advertising account.
Leading with an article about the BBC’s “institutional arrogance”, the Telegraph managed to turn David Cameron’s months of manoeuvrings and evasions into a story about failings within the British media:
David Cameron and the Conservative campaign team believe that their record in government and 2015 manifesto will not withstand the scrutiny of a televised debate with Ed Miliband. If they have so little faith in the appeal of conservative policies, why should we have faith in them?
When your estimated share of the vote hovers around the mid thirties and the opinion polls predict another hung parliament, a serious political party at ease with itself simply cannot afford to be risk averse. And yet that is precisely what both Ed Miliband and David Cameron are doing – the former by pursuing his 35% core vote strategy and the Prime Minister by throwing up as many obstacles as possible between himself and the prospect of taking part in the televised leaders’ debates.
The Guardian shows with one pertinent example why the debates, though a new tradition in British politics, have become an important part of our democratic process:
There is a broader and important point about the accountability of politicians. Tony Blair, ever the showman, held monthly press conferences in an attempt to explain himself. Sometimes, if the timing was right, these events were a very difficult hour for the prime minister. Gordon Brown broadly continued the tradition. Cameron abolished them. He remains available for the occasional newspaper interview with a friendly proprietor and, at conference time, finds time for a 20-minute breakfast inquisition. But his favourite forum is Good Morning Britain, a revealing discussion with a woman’s magazine about his cooking prowess or three questions on regional radio interspersed with a Barry Manilow song.
And Janet Daley, writing in The Telegraph, explains why Cameron’s latest dodge may be a political miscalculation:
Behold our political leaders debating whether or not they should participate in televised debates ahead of the general election.
We have wasted an inordinate amount of time over the past two weeks worrying about the general election televisised party leader debates. Countless headlines and front pages have been devoted to the “will they, won’t they” game of brinksmanship being played out by David Cameron and the other party leaders. Ed Miliband wasted the better part of his Prime Minister’s Questions attack on the subject. And for what?
What are we really getting excited about when we feverishly speculate over whether the debates will happen, and which of the identikit politicians will bother to appear on stage? Do we actually expect to hear serious new policy initiatives being announced? An honest discussion about the budget deficit, and competing but realistic spending plans that will bring the public finances back into balance? A searching discussion about twenty-first century Britain’s place in the world?
Has anything happened over the past five years to give us cause to hope for these things? And here’s an even more important question: Why do we care about the debates anyway?