A good friend of mine has written a lovely book for young children explaining how elections work. In The Election the leaders of the Stripy and Spotty Parties have a debate the night before the election. Of course they do. It’s obvious.
My friend must be fuming at the moment that the politicians are currently acting more childishly than most of her audience. Thus jeopardising a key part of her otherwise brilliant book. And let’s be honest, one politician in particular is to blame. The Prime Minister.
There is an astonishing amount of disingenuous talk going on around the debates at the moment, but none more so than that emanating from Cameron and his camp. Having gone from hugging huskies to decrying “green crap” in just a few short years, you’d think that David Cameron would know better than to try to greenwash his objection to the debates. It just rings so damn false.
What’s worse though is that everyone knows this isn’t his real reason for wanting to scupper the debates. He just doesn’t want to give Ed a chance to defy (admittedly pretty low) expectations or for Farage to outbloke him from the right. This is a PR decision, and we ain’t talking voting systems.
The worst part about everyone knowing though is that isn’t stopping Cameron from continuing to peddle his ridiculous line. Whether or not you believe the Greens should be involved in the debates (probably on balance, but there are arguments either way) let us be clear on one thing: David Cameron doesn’t really care. Sure he’d kind of like them there so they can come at Labour from the Left just as UKIP will come at him from his right. But even that has inherent dangers for Cameron as it places Ed firmly on that hallowed middle ground.
So this is one Party taking their ball home and hoping that will stop the game. They are also trying to bully the broadcasters at the same time. The words Charter renewal are frequently being bandied around at the BBC. They have always been terrified of the Tories and their free market objection to the state broadcaster. Yes another reason why they might be cowed into submission by Cameron’s craven act.
I very rarely buy into the ever more frequent cries from both sides of the political spectrum about bias. Not least because they do come from both sides (and from anyone baffled as to how many times exactly Nigel Farage needs to be on Question Time to achieve balance). But I do think the BBC has become ever more biased towards caution. The scandals that have rocked it over the last few years have left it wounded and vulnerable. They fear the Tories ideological objections to its very presence. They don’t have the same fears with Labour.
But perhaps they should. I am a staunch defender of and believer in our state broadcaster. But they must be a source that is independent and unbiased – a broadcaster funded by the state but not run by it. Otherwise they have lost their value and all that remains is Cash in the Attic and Eastenders. Commercial content that can sink or swim without the vital other aspects our state broadcaster so enriches us with. The BBC should take into account the diminishing of their long term value and reputation before blithely following the path of least resistance here.
In 2007, Gordon Brown failed to hold an election he had widely prepared for. The sense of him as both a ditherer and as “frit” stuck with him for the rest of his Prime Ministerial career.HIs was a torturous political death by a thousand cuts, but it was this wound that defined him.
In 2015, David Cameron is misleading the public to avoid answering to them in debates he had previously enthusiastically advocated. He is both “frit” and behaving in the most two faced way possible about it.
This too should define the dog days of his Prime Ministership and all other politicians, pollsters, pundits and the public should all make sure it does.