Although leaders may be dreading them on the quiet, the only thing genuinely up for debate is the format. This is being fumbled by the Prime Minister who unexpectedly leapt to the defence of the Green Party, excluded from the debates by television broadcasters.
This may have been for the sake of democratic fairness, although something tells me it was more tactical than that, but either way the result has been a barrage of comments that Mr Cameron is running scared of Nigel Farage. Even Ed Miliband is referring to the PM as an ‘empty-chair’ saying he’ll take part in the debates with or without him.
The Prime Minister did not fare too badly in the three 2010 debates, although easier coming from a point of opposition against then PM Gordon Brown, he improved considerably in style and tone from the first to the last. He has also had five more years of public speaking events.
If, or more likely when, he takes part the biggest job for Cameron is to keep his cool as panel members attack his record from all sides and not to parrot soundbites. Sometimes the communication technique of ‘repetition, repetition, repetition,’ needs a bit of a rest.
Miliband and Farage: They have the most to win or lose
In fact the biggest risks are for Ed Miliband and UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Miliband we hear is being coached by Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell. The Labour leader’s job is to be authentic but look Prime Ministerial. This may be difficult, as sometimes Miliband seems bumbling to explain his arguments succinctly and sometimes assertive. Also, he will either be tired or in his stride by the time the debates happen. So it’s hard to tell.
We have seen from 2010 how the underdog can do well. But, Nigel Farage needs to avoid getting lost on wider aspects of foreign policy and sound sensible on domestic details particularly the finer points of the economy. I don’t think the other debaters will utter the ‘r’ word but they will unpick every sentence he has uttered, statistic he has quoted and party leaflet he has put his picture on.
Farage clearly needs to know his own manifesto inside out (no chance of dismissing it as drivel this year Nige) and blend policy with the blunt ‘man on the street’ style that he is known for. The latest Ashcroft poll puts UKIP at 18%, if Farage plays it right the spin room afterwards may just show more polls of ‘I agree with Nigel.’
David Cameron leads the government of the day, it will be a lesser debate without him. He should, along with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg be scrutinised for five years in office and indeed as Farage himself might put it; you need to be in it to win it.