After OfCom ruled that the Greens were “not a major party” (but that oddly enough, UKIP were), David Cameron said that he would not take part in the TV debates unless the Greens were invited to take part. The OfCom ruling and the TV debates are not directly linked, but the ruling does make it a lot easier to exclude the Greens, which for various reasons most of the broadcasters would prefer.
I understand both why Cameron doesn’t want to do the debates without the Greens and also, really, why he doesn’t want to do them at all. He’d be happy to debate Miliband, but he’s scared shitless of having to face Farage. And who can blame him? Farage would tear him to shreds on Europe, an issue that in regards to, Cameron is trying to get through the election balancing on the head of a pin. As for the Greens themselves, beyond mere tokenism within Cameron’s argument, their place as a McGuffin in the grand “let’s avoid the mistakes of 2010” Tory plan, the PM figures if he has to face Farage, Miliband should have to face Bennett. He might have a point here. Perhaps if the Greens do take part in the initial debate it has more chance of just becoming an incoherent car crash as opposed to Farage metaphorically battering Cameron against the ropes for an hour.
So ultimately Cameron’s “I won’t do it without the lovely Greens” is a bluff, a ploy to get him out of having to do the debates. But I think it is one that will ultimately backfire on him. Because the networks will either call his bluff by simply inviting the Greens to participate, regardless of the OfCom ruling, or they will go with the nuclear option and convene the debates anyhow, inviting Cameron to take part while letting him know that should he decline, there will be an empty chair debating in his place. The Prime Minister has left himself with no way out of either route; he has played himself into a corner.
The backfire from every single other party came thick and fast, my favourite being Paddy Ashdown’s quote:
“Not since the photos of Cameron driving Huskies have green issues been so cynically harnessed to Tory interest.”
No one is going to let him get away with the see-through Greens bluff. Or if they are, heads should be hung in shame. Watch for the 5-3-2 format to go ahead, with an announcement on it in the coming weeks.
Will Barter says
The trouble with the 5 3 2 format is that you then have to ask which issues do some party leaders not get to discuss. In 2010 each debate focused on different issues – so do you leave Farage et al out of the economy debate? The home affairs one? Foreign affairs? Farage will want to discuss immigration, Bennett will focus elsewhere? Who chooses?