Many, myself included, thought Cameron played a blinder when he managed to bully the networks into running the “debate” schedule he wanted, i.e. one without a head to head with just he and Miliband being involved. The idea at the time ran that since Miliband would be coming into the whole thing with such low expectations, he’d be bound to win no matter how Cameron performed. Given the Tories were on course for victory, giving such an opportunity to Labour had to be avoided.
That seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it? In a post-#Milifan Britain, the above stated concept feels rather quaint. It also now looks like the Tories spent a lot of time and effort (and some not insignificant political capital as well) dodging something that had they agreed to would actually have turned out to be beneficial. Because at present, Labour and Miliband are dominating the campaign. Well, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are, actually, but Nicola can’t be prime minister of Great Britain under any circumstances, so even that strangely plays to Miliband’s favour in terms of getting into Number 10.
What the Tories could really use now more than anything is a chance to corner Miliband and hammer him on his weakest policies, i.e. most of them. But Cameron and co have to rely on the media to do his for them because the prime minister will not be given a chance to question the leader of the opposition himself. Let’s recall, because he ducked the opportunity on purpose in the first place. Cameron could have had an occasion to have a go at Miliband himself on the economy next week, for instance, something Miliband isn’t that keen to talk about as we famously know. But that’s gone forever now.
Having said all of that, Cameron has been reluctant to talk about the economy himself anyway, for fear of having to mention any cuts, so perhaps he still is better off out of it. But thinking about it that way, the Tories have then all but conceded the election, one that was theirs to win. In other words, thinking about Cameron debating Miliband one on one being advantageous to the Tories requires circular logic: the only reason the Miliband debate would now be good for the Conservative Party is because they’ve allowed Labour to get ahead. Given that’s now happened, what use would a dispirited and unable to play to Tory strengths Cameron be against Miliband anyhow?
The Tory strategy going forward, whatever they might say in public, is this: pray there are a slew of silent Tories out there who will recoil from a Miliband-Sturgeon arrangement at the last moment. There is no Tory Plan B.