During the AV campaign, we used to get upset when a TV network would bring on someone who wasn’t directly involved with our campaign to speak supposedly on our behalf. It’s frustrating – and can be disastrous. The best example was Chris Huhne talking about Goebbels (proving once again that bringing up the Nazis is never a good idea in political discourse). We didn’t even know he was going on TV to talk about AV at all, never mind said that speaking about them in hysterical WWII references was a the way to go. But we got tarred with the fallout nonetheless.
I’m not surprised by either the fact that Cameron has chosen to debate Farage and not another Tory, or that ITV have gone along with it. Cameron wants to avoid an argument with another Conservative politician on live television for many reasons. He also knows that Farage will alienate loads of undecided voters the moment he appears on screen. For ITV, Farage is still blockbuster in political terms.
So far, Vote Leave have done a remarkably good job keeping Nigel in his box. But that wasn’t going to last for the entire campaign. The idea that Farage was going to shut up until June 23rd was fanciful. Particularly as Cameron was always going to try and engineer this debate and Farage was never, ever going to say no to the offer.
Perhaps Farage will be convinced to tone down the anti-immigrant stuff, but I doubt it. With questions from the crowd to come along as well, someone will ask Farage about what Brexit looks like in practical terms and someone will no doubt ask him if we’ll be worse off finically if we leave. He’ll fluff both of those. Unless Cameron has the worst night of his political life, he’ll win on the night. And he won’t have an off evening because of what is at stake, both for his premiership and the future of the country.
I know exactly how they feel at Vote Leave. At least they have advance warning and can try and do something to stop this taking place before June 7th. But I doubt it will be of much used to them. They’ll almost certainly have to sit there on the 7th, hoping it doesn’t go too badly for them.