Conservative Diary

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Election debates may not happen because of party disagreements on number and format of debates

It may be a typical Sunday newspaper story - and it's written by Melissa Kite who has a history of speculative pieces - but I hope it is true.

The Sunday Telegraph is suggesting that plans for leadership election debates are "in chaos" because David Cameron and Gordon Brown cannot agree on formats:

"Gordon Brown has proposed up to six debates while the Liberal Democrats are demanding three three-way debates.  Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are accusing the Tory leader of "backing down" after months of calling for a television debate. Mr Cameron has proposed the most slimline option, involving one debate with all three leaders. But Mr Brown has told broadcasters he wants at least six. He and Mr Cameron would go head to head in one, Mr Brown would face Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, in another while Mr Cameron would face Mr Clegg in a third. Then there would be three more debates between Mr Brown and Mr Cameron focused on a different issue each time, such as the economy."

My concern about these debates is very simple. The Conservatives have too much to lose when we are comfortably ahead in the opinion polls and therefore have to be very careful about the formats we are willing to accept.  I hope the report is correct and Team Cameron is insisting on just one or two debates.  At the very least I hope we can exclude Nick Clegg from one of the debates. Earlier in the week a poll of ConservativeHome readers agreed that there should be at least one Brown V Cameron head-to-head ratings-busting debate.  Mr Clegg is not going to be Prime Minister and he does not deserve the boost in status that equal-debates-footing would give him.

Tim Montgomerie


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