Interesting observation from David Cameron about tomorrow’s TV debate. Despite every single rule having been agreed by his team in discussions with Labour, the Lib Dems and the broadcasters, he cannot resist getting into a little process-ology 24 hours out.
An American friend of mine who has done a bit of work in US TV debates sent me a list of rules when we were negotiating the idea of a TV debate back in 1997. I can’t remember them all, but I do remember the one that said ‘the debater should never get into debating the debates.’
But what my Washington American does not know is DC (the Cameron version anyway). Process and presentation are what he does. So on the eve of the first one, what else would he talk about? The Big Society? Come off it. That was a line to get them through the manifesto launch, and out and under before the media got onto the fact that what it actully means is big cuts and DIY public services.
No, he and his team think a little whinge about the rules of the debate is in order. He was worried they would not really be debates at all, that because of the strict rules on timings, and the role of the moderator, the three leaders won’t be able to get through enough questions. I wasn’t involved in the negotiations this time, but I understand these were not complaints made terribly forcibly at the time.
In any event, as I said on the day they were finally agreed, all that matters is the debate itself, the performance of the leaders, the reaction of the watching public and the millions of conversations that will follow. The words of hype, including Cameron, including these of mine here, including the squillions on the airwaves and in the papers tomorrow, are irrelevant. It is like a football match. There is so much talk before, during and after. All that matters is the 90 minutes.
But what I think DC’s intervention dictates is an early indication that he prefers debates which allow him short and snappy q and a, moving from one subject to the next before real debate can be enjoined.
From the polling I’ve seen done since the launch of the manifestoes, the idea that GB is substance and DC is style is firming up. I think Mr Cameron’s comments cement the trend.
I also said when the debates were announced that Nick Clegg is the one with most to gain, purely because of the added profile it will bring. Back in 1997, even the Lib Dems were not asking for equal time for Paddy Ashdown with TB and John Major, so Mr Clegg’s team really have done well in negotiating those rules to which Cameron and Co now object
The Tories certainly do go to great lengths to enjoy themselves and to create as realistic a sense as possible of the debate forum, however. I hear that when Michael Gove is pretending to be Adam Boulton, Sky’s fashionably overweight presenter of the second debate next week, he puts a cushion up his jumper. Funny man that Gove, though DC didn’t seem to see the funny side yesterday when his education spokesman took the floor and droned on beyond his allotted time.
All quite exciting though. I just hope the debate is good and the viewing figures high.
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