Week 2: Chicken – David Cameron MP

by Jackie_South on January 14, 2015

Tory_chickenIn preparation for this year’s general election, I am launching a new category to add to our usual heroes, villains and prats of the week. The Prime Minister is a fitting inaugural winner of our new Chicken of the Week award. I dare say the other parties will have their turns too as we get closer to 7 May.

Earlier today, my colleague Ray North posted on the double-talk of the parties on their positions on the Prime Ministerial debates. But let’s be honest about this – the politician that clearly comes out the worst from this for his dishonesty and cowardice is David Cameron.

He has of course set two preconditions for entering the TV debates against the other party leaders: not only the inclusion of Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, but also that the debates should not take place during the election proper.

Here at All That’s Left we agree that the Greens should be part of the same TV debate as UKIP (albeit that technically Natalie Bennett is only the leader in England and Wales, unlike the four national leaders that will take part).

But the choice is not that of politicians, it is one for broadcasters and OfCom. We may disagree with their decision, but once made that is no excuse for party leaders to wheedle out. David Cameron’s faux-chivalry in pretending to back the Green case is frankly embarrassing – no-one believes he cares for them, outside the potential possible impact it might have on Labour and Lib Dem votes (although of course it might of course help Labour, in having two left-of-centre voices in the debate rather than the proposed 3 vs 1). No, it is very transparent that Cameron is using this as a way of justifying ducking out.

But even if you did for one moment believe that Cameron had some genuine concern for the welfare of the Green Party, what is absolutely clearly twaddle is his view that the TV debates should only take place before he goes to the Palace (I’m presuming that he still needs to carry out this custom before the election is called, whatever the fixed Parliament arrangements say).  In 2010, all three debates happened in the three weeks before the election. David Cameron had no concern then about how this was distracting from the election.

The idea that voters don’t want to see the debates in the weeks before the election because they would prefer party leaders to travel round the country for carefully orchestrated visits to marginal constituencies is frankly a joke. Only the most brainless of the party faithful would prefer to wait behind the barriers to shake a leader’s hand than watch them on TV having to debate one another.

Cameron knows that the March TV schedules are already pretty much beyond the rearrangement and co-ordination across four channels to make his professed wish come true. And of course, if by a miracle they could, Cameron is more interested in putting distance between any hiccups in the debate and the election so that the massive Tory funding can steamroller over the problems.

Cameron is dressing up simple cowardice as principle. The last five years have proved beyond doubt that he has no principles at all. No, Cameron is simply just chicken.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North January 15, 2015 at 8:22 am

Yes, I remember Tony Blair being exactly the same – and I’d have more sympathy with the Labour Party ‘Chicken’ line, if they had unequivocally called for The Greens to be part of the debate as well – if they had done that, then they could genuinely call Cameron school yard names.

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Jackie_South January 15, 2015 at 11:52 am

Yes, but in Blair’s time the debates had never happened. Once the genie was out of the bottle in 2010, most people’s expectations were that the debates would become a permanent fixture. To be fair to Blair (something I generally try to avoid doing), he was straight forward about it and did not try to pull Cameron’s “ooh, great idea but let’s have them outside of the election period” nonsense.

Whatever Labour’s view of whether the Greens should be included is frankly irrelevant – it is not their call, it is the broadcasters and Ofcom’s. Having a go at Labour for the decision is like blaming the other team for a bad decision made by the referee.

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George_East January 15, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that. I’m pretty sure that if Clegg, Farage and Miliband all said that the Greens should be included (thereby closing off that route of escape for Cameron) they would be. The football analogy isn’t a very good one because the referee is applying established rules. Ofcom and the broadcasters on the other hand are making it up as they go along.
There is a very easy way of calling Cameron’s bluff and it is somewhat telling that the other parties (and Miliband in particular) are not prepared to do so.
On your Blair point I agree completely, it is the same with Thatcher and Major who were both at various points challenged to have debates. Thatcher’s response that we live in a ‘parliamentary system not a presidential system’ is both correct and somewhat surprising given that she was the most presidential of all Prime Ministers.
My own view is that the debates are a freak show and I have no huge desire for them to take place. However if they do then the Greens should be there.

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George_East January 15, 2015 at 9:08 am

Labour fairly transparently don’t want the Greens there. Cameron doesn’t want a repeat of 2010. Danny Finkelstein was excellent on Cameron’s motives in the Times yesterday – part of it is that it reflects a Tory myth that the debates which they were so vociferous in their calls for last time they think lost them a majority. They don’t want Farage to have the same opportunity as Clegg had last time (playing the anti-Westminster card). Also there is a lesser fear that expectations about Ed Miliband are so low that he can only exceed them.
As of now my bet is there won’t be any debates.

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