Is it time for a televised leaders’ debate?

by Stephen Tall on September 4, 2007

Yesterday Gordon Brown faced repeated media questioning asking if he would agree to take part in the UK’s first televised debate between the leaders of the three main political parties. Mr Brown rejected the idea.

Adam Boulton’s blog rehearses the familiar arguments:

Brown didn’t even entertain the idea of debate. Instead he used the same old excuses. It’s not the British Way. A General Election is not a presidential contest, since voters are choosing between parties not directly electing a leader. British party leaders debate regularly in parliament. All these arguments are reasonable but not, I believe overwhelming. Isn’t precedent made to be broken?

British voters may not be directly electing a President but they are choosing between parties to form a government. Those parties have elected leaders who are presenting themselves a potential Prime Ministers. Nobody would deny that who is going to be Prime Minister is still a central issue. …

But the strongest reason for TV debates is democratic. Large numbers of people watch television debates at Election time and that, surely, gets the public involved: just what the Prime Minister and other politicians always say they want. In America 62.5 million people watched the first Bush Kerry debate in 2004. In France 20 million watched Sarkozy and Royal square up this year, at the subsequent election turnout was over 80%. In Germany, which has a parliamentary system like ours, Chancellor debates are the key fixtures of the campaign.

If the Prime Minister wants new politics and engaged voters, he’s just turned down a big chance to do something about it.

Today both Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell and Tory leader David Cameron have called on the Prime Minister to back down, and agree to a televised debate. Ming said that Prime Minister’s refusal to engage in a debate showed “Gordon Brown’s new politics is skin deep.”

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A televised debate with the three party leaders would be great! Only keep it short because Sir Ming can’t stand up for very long these days.

by Laurence Boyce on September 4, 2007 at 7:06 pm. Reply #

Laurence, if you wonder why people seem to dismiss your opinions (and I imagine you don’t), it’s because of uncalled for abuse like that.

by Graeme on September 4, 2007 at 7:27 pm. Reply #

I think you might have lost any credibility you ever had with that comment Laurence.

by Hywel Morgan on September 4, 2007 at 7:28 pm. Reply #

Oh lighten up for God’s sake.

by Laurence Boyce on September 4, 2007 at 7:51 pm. Reply #


I have been Sympathetic to your Ming comments in the past.

Comments like those above do little to further your credibility and arguments.

by Cheltenham Robin on September 4, 2007 at 8:13 pm. Reply #

Fine, I’ve got no credibility. Neither do the Lib Dems under Sir Ming’s leadership. We’re a joke, everyone knows it, and we’re heading for a major reverse at a time when we ought to be making steady progress.

by Laurence Boyce on September 4, 2007 at 8:21 pm. Reply #

We’re a joke

Less of the “we”. The first person singular would be rather more apposite in your comment.

by Dominic on September 4, 2007 at 10:35 pm. Reply #

Fine, I’m a joke as well. I really don’t mind. But you’re driving over a precipice.

by Laurence Boyce on September 4, 2007 at 10:43 pm. Reply #

I’m watching Newsnight in the background which has just made the striking point that a certain Gordon Brown argued for exactly such a debate when he appeared on Breakfast Time in 1987 (presented by Frank Bough and Jeremy Paxman).

Brown hasn’t justified his change of stance and it is he who is losing credibility as a result.

What a shame that the political leader of our country has to drag us through the mud with his hypocrisy!

by James S on September 4, 2007 at 10:57 pm. Reply #

It’s really very simple. Prime Ministers agree to a debate if they feel it is to their advantage, which it very rarely is.

by Laurence Boyce on September 4, 2007 at 11:10 pm. Reply #

Yes Laurence, I can see that is the rationale, but we have here clear and unmistakable evidence that Brown makes his choice on the principle of what is more advantageous for HIM, not for anything so unseemly as a common or greater good.

And the Tories can’t argue either, this issue arose because they have now done the same.

This is one way in which we can differentiate ourselves.

by James S on September 4, 2007 at 11:46 pm. Reply #

So what was Ming Campbell saying that will get any coverage whatsover?


by Daniel Bowen on September 5, 2007 at 7:28 am. Reply #

Brown should just have said: That was then this is now.

Cameron reminds me of the Black Knight in MP and the Holy Grail. “Coward!” he shouts as he hops armless, legless, policy-less, and utterly disposed of. Into the mire.

Campbell would be more so. Though I rather like him as Lib Dem leader myself.

I do hope that comment isn’t construed as support for LB’s vile banter.

by Chris Paul on September 5, 2007 at 9:29 am. Reply #

PS The idea of this debate is pretty facile really isn’t it?

Since when has running a government been an activity like Celebrity Come Dancing. Stars in their Eyes, or X Factor?

In my view Gordon would batter the flim flam excitability of Dave-iiiid! Viewers would sense he was (a) utterly bonkers (b) a toff (c) putting on a show (d) an empty vessel making most noise.

But there is a small risk of something going wrong. Why would any one sensible take even that small risk?

It is not a question of being sporting, up school play the game, it is a question of beliefs and winning elections to pursue those beliefs.

by Chris Paul on September 5, 2007 at 9:34 am. Reply #

No! No! No! No! No! Don’t put Ming up against Brown and Cameron in a live debate, he’ll crumble under his own lack of ability (See PMQs for many many examples).

by Letterman on September 5, 2007 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

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