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David Cameron's "Cameron Direct" meetings will make him all the more prepared for the TV debates

Picture 12 On Monday, just a few hours before the first snow fell across the capital, I braved the cold to go to a church in Hammersmith in order to observe a Cameron Direct meeting - my first, David Cameron's 57th.

More than 230 residents from across the redrawn marginal constituency - which will be contested for the Conservatives by Shaun Bailey - turned up to spend an hour firing questions on anything and everything at the Tory leader.

Picture 18 Readers may be unfamiliar with the format, since the meetings, which have now attended by well in excess of 10,000 people from all corners of the United Kingdom (as illustrated by the map) since they began in June 2008, are explicitly closed to party members. It's an opportunity for ordinary voters - sympathetic, apathetic, floating and indeed downright hostile - to probe the man who will be seeking their help in getting him the keys to Number Ten at the impending general election.

It's a very basic set-up: Mr Cameron takes to a modest 6-inch high podium (without a lectern), makes a few introductory remarks and then immediately gives the floor to the voters wanting to question him - which inevitably include some who are actively hostile to the party, as was the case in Hammersmith on Monday.

I felt that he came across extremely well in the environment: honest, human and - importantly - not just seeking to tell the questioners what they wanted to hear. And at those points when he was not willing to play to the audience, it should at least have garnered him additional respect from the genuine floating voters in attendance for being prepared to stick to his guns.

My other thought about the event was this: could there be any better experience to prepare for this year's televised election debates?

I don't know whether there will be audience participation in the TV debates or if the questioning will be left to David Dimbleby and his counterparts (though at the end of the day, the public are just as - if not more - capable of bowling googlies at politicians as the professionals). Yet combining the ability to give straight answers to direct questions with the skill of debating against the other leaders surely makes Mr Cameron the favourite to come out on top when the debates take place.

ElectionDebatesSurvey That is certainly the view of ConHome readers, according to our December survey, as the graphic on the right illustrates. Whilst there remains concern that the Liberal Democrats will unduly benefit from the debates, a clear majority agree that not only will they be good for democracy and politics, but that David Cameron will be judged the winner.

So as far as I am concerned, the more Cameron Direct meetings that can be arranged between now and polling day, the better. And there is in fact a special Cameron Direct Online event being held this very evening in Reading focusing on the NHS, which will be also be broadcast live on the party website. All week people have been submitting questions and those voted most popular will be put to David Cameron by the event's chairman, Julia Manning, who blogged about it all here earlier in the week.

> 1.30pm update: Paul Waugh blogs that David Cameron intends to continue with the Cameron Direct meeting format if he is elected Prime Minister.

Jonathan Isaby

PS Below is the webcast of Monday's Cameron Direct meeting in Hammersmith:

Watch live streaming video from conservatives at


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