After David Cameron’s unedifying attempts to wriggle out of directly debating Labour leader Ed Miliband over the past few months, the Prime Minister cannot be certain that the muddle eventually agreed with all parties and the broadcasters will be to his benefit.
The four-event debate schedule will go as follows:
26 March: Live Q and A programme on Channel 4 and Sky News featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband, presented by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley. The leaders will be interviewed separately
2 April: Debate with the seven party leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru on ITV, moderated by Julie Etchingham
16 April: Debate between the five opposition party leaders (Labour, Ukip, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru) on the BBC, moderated by David Dimbleby
30 April: BBC Question Time programme with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, presented by David Dimbleby
Cameron and co have done a skilful job in preventing the PM going toe-to-toe with Miliband, as well as lumping the son-of-a-Marxist in with all the other opposition parties, but as former New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell stated in an interview with the Guardian, he would have been better off sticking to his guns.
The Tory line was that there should not be any debates during the short campaign, which is set to start within the next 10 days. Instead, there’ll be a jam-packed, if watered-down, debate schedule until a week out from polling day.
As far as the overall result is concerned, there’s too much chaos to tell what this all means.
The Conservatives could lose votes to Ukip if Nigel Farage comes across as well as he did when mauling Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in two debates on Europe last year.
Alternatively, with so much ammunition likely to be lobbed at the insurgent leader during the seven-way debate, which will contain at least four left-of-centre politicians who dislike Ukip and practically everything they stand for, this could be the moment Farage’s bubble finally bursts.
One party leader who’ll be particularly buoyed by the agreement is the Greens’ Natalie Bennett, as the Australian’s presence in two debates offers her a couple of chances to make amends for a series of car crash interviews earlier this year.
The Greens will be the only UK-wide party represented in the debates offering a truly Socialist manifesto, and while they’re unlikely to add to their one seat in Brighton Pavilion, there’ll be plenty of Labour voters out to give Miliband’s lot a bloody nose where possible.
They’re polling at around 5% at present, so 6/4 about the Greens grabbing between 5-10% on May 7th looks decent.