As the Tories encourage the papers to savage Nick Clegg any which way they can, it is worth remembering that they have been doing much the same to Gordon Brown for months, backed by one of the biggest and most personal poster campaigns in history. Has it helped David Cameron? Not much. His and his party’s ratings have been diving south, and not just since last week’s TV debate.
I am not convinced that having the Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch titles do their worst against Clegg will have the impact they would imagine. It is part of the old politics that Clegg is seeking to exploit. Newspapers have shouted so loudly for so long that people don’t hear them so much any more. Also, Cameron has tried to shed the ‘nasty party’ image. This is reminding people what they and their politics are all about. Indeed if I were him, I might think about coming out to condemn some of the more stringent attacks and call for a proper media debate on policy.
It is right for the other parties to go for the Lib Dems, just as the Lib Dems are right to go for us and the Tories. Arguments are what elections are about. But I really believe the debate should be focused on policy. It is far more effective than the stuff being churned out through the papers. The problem is – and this benefits Clegg – it is drowning out the space where the policy debate should be.
I saw Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark this morning, who said that at least tonight’s debate will show up clear differences in foreign policy. Indeed it will. But then the question is where does the media take the debate thereafter – to more polls, process, hung Parliament-ology, policy again drowned out.
Almost a week from the first debate, it is incredible the extent to which policy has been so absent from the debate. There has not really even been a discussion of the future of the electoral system, a change to which would be one of the biggest changes this country could ever make. Whether that would be the right thing or the wrong thing, it is almost as though we are sleepwalking towards it without any real debate as to what it means.
That’s why I think the line for all the parties should not be about process and so forth, but simply saying to the British people — at this time, you are the boss, you are the decision-makers, and the best thing you can do is make a decision to decide, one way or the other, who you want as your PM and your government.
Kirsty was chairing an event where Michael Portillo and I were speaking and I was surprised to hear Michael say that he thought if we ended up with a scenario where the price of a Cameron Premiership propped up by the Lib Dems was a commitment to PR, the Tories would back that. I was genuinely shocked by that. Because it basically means the Tories giving up on ever forming a majority government again.
Perhaps they have. On the basis of one TV debate? These really are strange times.
As I left the event to head for Bristol, someone who had been at the event said something really interesting … ‘Looks like Brown can’t win, Cameron can’t win, Clegg can’t win … but someone has to form a government. So what happens now?’
Good question. We may know a little more after tonight. It is a real shame, and actually something of a scandal, that the public service broadcasters are not taking the debate live, despite being offered it by Sky. When I said that to the audience at the event with Michael Portillo, people seemed rather shocked and disgruntled. I have been involved in a lot of elections, but none quite like this, and none being followed quite so closely.
It is why there should be more not less access to the debates for the public, and more not less policy debate in the press. The shrill shrieking of the Cameron-supporting papers helps nobody, least of all DC.
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