Playground, panto and poultry – a day in the life of a debate about a debate

I have to say I’m completely over this debate talk. I’m starting to think that we should just lock every party leader in the country in the Big Brother house after the current occupants have departed and leave them there till they start behaving like adults rather than 9 year olds in the playground.

We have Dave who doesn’t want to take on Nige who’s wooing his more prejudiced voters. And wasn’t he talking about “green crap” not so long ago. More opportunistic posturing than repenting sinner, though.

We have Nige who thinks he can come across as the man of the people and wipe the floor with everyone, except his stats are dodgy and his views based on misinformation and prejudice.

We have Ed who must know he’s more cut out for writing worthy books in a dusty attic than slugging it out in a tv studio where he’s going to look as uncomfortable as hell. He has something to fear from everyone. Nige and Nicola are after his vote, Dave can give him a pasting on the economy, Nick has done more for disadvantaged kids in 5 years than his party did in 13 and he knows his vote is vulnerable to the Greens on the left. He must be very grateful to Dave for giving him a get out of jail free card. All he needs to do is utter the magic words “let the Greens in” and Dave will have no choice but to find another excuse to avoid debating.

Nick has the most right to feel aggrieved given that he’s actually in government, has a record to defend and will have to sit the first one out, allowing the others to set the agenda. Is he going off in a fit of pique? He wowed us once before in a tv debate.

Natalie, Nicola and Leanne are all wanting to be allowed on the stage – and, given that they could all be part of a coalition government, there are valid reasons why they should be.

And I suspect we will also have a run on chicken suits and drawing of lots in party HQs to determine which poor member of staff has to follow party leaders around.

I am not particularly enamoured of the stunt pulled by Clegg, Miliband and Farage with their missives in triplicate. It’s all a bit panto. Why did we have to go plotting with UKIP?

Here, for posterity, is the text of Nick’s letter.

Dear David,

In 2010 the televised leaders’ debates provided an unprecedented opportunity for voters to see the party leaders debate the critical issues facing our country.  The debates were watched by more than 20 million people and enthusiastically endorsed by all those who took part, including yourself.

In recent days, you have announced that you are unwilling to take part in debates as proposed by the main broadcasters for the 2015 General Election. I believe it would be a major setback to our democratic processes if these debates were not repeated in 2015 because of one politician’s unwillingness to participate.

I hope you will agree that the decision as to who should take part in the televised debates should not be in the hands of any party leader, each of whom inevitably has their own political interests to defend. It must be a decision independently and objectively arrived at.

As you know, the broadcasters, who have strict obligations of political impartiality under the BBC Charter or their OFCOM licences, have together made such an objective determination. While each of the other parties invited to take part in the debates has their own views on the proposal and the levels of participation offered and will continue to make their case in this regard, we all accept the independence and impartiality of the broadcasters and have committed to take part in the debates.

It would be unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader were to deny the public the opportunity to see their leaders debate in public. Therefore, if you are unwilling to reconsider, the three party leaders who have committed to participate will ask the broadcasters to press ahead with the debates and provide an empty podium should you have a last minute change of heart.

These debates are not the property of the politicians and I do not believe the public will accept lightly the prospect of any politician seeking to block them.



Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Charles Kennedy talked the most sense on today’s Politics Scotland. You have to love his honesty. He said that he was not a betting man, making a wry aside that it was the only failing he didn’t have, but if he was he’d think the odds were against. He sees history repeating itself as Blair avoided debating him in 2005. He also agrees with me that the views of all the parties are relevant.

Actually, can we just dump the idea of having leaders’ debates and just get Kennedy, Ken Clarke and Neil Kinnock in a tv studio together? That would be a cracking hour of tv and it would be funny too.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • An Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman… The opening sounds promising…!

  • We could turn Chevening into the Big Brother House.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '15 - 10:10pm

    Day 1 in the Big Brother house. Nigel has fallen asleep on the sofa. An empty wine bottle rolls onto the expensive Axminster. In the kitchen, Ed and Dave are arguing over the weekly shopping list. Housemates are allowed a deficit of up to £100 which must be paid back in subsequent weeks. Nick is upstairs on the rowing machine. Nicola doesn’t know how she got here but is sure it must be Westminster’s fault…

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jan '15 - 10:15pm

    Caron’s line about getting the party leaders in the Big Brother house made me laugh. Get Comic Relief onto it. I’d imagine we’d have Miliband moralising to Cameron with Cameron responding back in election slogans and Farage and Clegg potentially bonding over a fireside chat, as long as the conversation doesn’t go onto immigration or women! If not, we should just do it with actors.

    I hope the debates happen. Cameron is damaging his legacy by believing in little besides winning.

  • Caron Lindsay 14th Jan ’15 – 10:10pm
    Day 1 in the Big Brother house.

    Where’s Natalie? Don’t say they have excluded her again?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 14th Jan '15 - 10:45pm

    That’s an insult to 9 year olds. 🙂

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '15 - 10:51pm

    Natalie is building an eco-friendly pod in the garden.

  • These kind of debates are really for a presidential system of which the UK is not.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Jan '15 - 9:41am

    I just had to copy over, with her permission, Louise Bloom’s comment from Facebook. It made me laugh.

    “I reckon they should all do a showstopper cake with a Palace of Westminster theme and perform a paso doblé !”

  • Bill le Breton 15th Jan '15 - 1:32pm

    How many times over the last 48 hours have you heard “The Greens are ahead of the Lib Dems”? What did that Mr Cortzee say, “In volume, over time.” Attention on this issue is very damaging to us. And that’s no joke.

  • matt (Bristol) 15th Jan '15 - 2:02pm

    That’s an interesting and telling point and I plead guilty to being drawn to this like a moth to a flame.

    However, I don’t think LibDems will be able to stop discussing this issue, because to us, what’s at stake is our status as a major party and we feel we can evidence that we are NOT ‘behind’ the Greens.

    But you’re right – the public perception being created is that we ARE now in popularity terms a very ‘minor’ party, based on opinion polling that is not infallible and not proven, and on the 2014 EU election result that could (am I being naieve?) prove to be a one-off unless it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    But it’s the same as with that oft-reported nostrum of the 90s and 00s, ‘The LibDems are left of Labour’. It was … sort-of … true … sometimes … but when the coalition with the Tories challenged that perception, the reaction of many was one of unfair betrayal and shock.

  • matt
    ” the reaction of many was one of unfair betrayal and shock.”
    That was the reaction of Tories to the Lib Lab pact in the 1970s I remember well.
    It comes as no surprise that Labour feel the same way when the boot is on the other foot.

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