Conservative Diary

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Why we should welcome the televised leaders' debates

Picture 6 Tim blogged a little earlier this evening an explanation as to why he is highly sceptical about the televised leaders' election debates which have been announced this evening for next year's campaign.

As regular readers should be well aware, Tim and I do not agree on everything and this an occasion where I will put an alternative point of view.

I am very excited about the prospect of the debates. At a time when public confidence in politicians is at an all-time low, David Cameron is leading the way (remember he was first to agree to the debates) in demonstrating a willingness, in the spirit of transparency and accountability, to be cross-examined in that most public of arenas, the TV studio.

In the same way that millions sit around the TV to watch the election results coming in - hence the campaign I co-founded to Save General Election Night - I anticipate that these prime time TV encounters will also see millions engaging with the political process, and that can be no bad thing.

The Conservatives currently being favourites to win the election would not have been a legitimate reason for David Cameron to duck out of the debates. That would have been portrayed by the media and opponents as a (completely unnecessary) sign of weakness. David Cameron's ability to put the party's case convincingly is unrelated to the party's standing in the polls at any given moment.

And as for Tim's main worry that it will boost the Liberal Democrats, I suspect that the fact that the Lib Dems stand in every seat in Great Britain and already have 60-odd seats in the Commons could have made it legally difficult to exclude them.

But we should not be afraid of taking them on and I have every confidence that David Cameron - and Gordon Brown for that matter - will hammer home at every opportunity the fact that Nick Clegg is in no position to become Prime Minister at the election and remind voters that the election really is - to coin a phrase - a two-horse race.

I believe that the general election will be a close-run contest nationally and that as polling day gets closer, people's minds will be focused on the stark choice of either returning Gordon Brown and a failing Labour Government to office or voting for change and the fresh start offered by David Cameron. The country needs a decisive outcome and should Clegg try to argue about the benefits of a hung Parliament - particularly when he is unable to indicate what he and his party would do in that position - then Mark Field's recent platform post provides many of the counter-arguments.

So let's embrace the debates as a positive development for the democratic process - bring them on!

Jonathan Isaby


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