Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Debate Wars

I suspect there will be a very simple reason why David Cameron, Michael Gove and Bpris Johnson do not want to do a direct "Blue on Blue" debate against one another

All three are the sort of man who will have read their history.

And you can be quite confident that none of them will want a repeat of what happened the last time Britain had a referendum on whether to stay in the organisation now known as the European Union and two senior members of the government went head to head in a TV debate on opposite sides.

Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins ended up accusing one another of wanting to destroy democracy and wreck the economy respectively. Within a few months they were no longer sitting round the same cabinet table and within six years they were no longer in the same party.

Personally I've heard so much rubbish about Europe from the hardliners on both sides that I'm starting to have an "It's a pity they can't both lose" reaction.

But I'm quite clear that we are living in a dangerous world where Britain needs strong defences, good relations with strong allies, and a policy which engages with the world and does not retreat into isolationism.

That view is not necessarily incompatible with either a "Leave" or a "Remain" vote, but it IS incompatible with allowing someone who has been strongly opposed both to NATO and to Britain's defences for thirty years to become Prime Minister. So it is actually more important to me than whether we vote in or out that the debate is conducted in a civilised manner which does not tear the Conservative Party about and lead to Prime Minister Corbyn.

I doubt whether ITV would have agreed that the debate on the EU referendum would not pit two cabinet members against one another in a "Blue on Blue" scenario unless it was pretty clear that they were not going to get two cabinet ministers willing to do it.

So although I can understand the Vote Leave team being irritated with the broadcasters over the debate format, and I'm not particularly trying to suggest that the proposed arrangement is perfect it is worth recognising that ITV had probably hit a brick wall with attempting to set up the sort of debate that some in Vote Leave evidently wanted.

Spitting the dummy out would have been unwise but understandable. But what Vote Leave have actually done tonight is try to threaten the broadcasters in a way which reminds me of the SNP's demand that the BBC sack Nick Robinson he did an interview with then SNP leader Alex Salmond which was not sufficiently sycophantic for them

This is the extraordinary statement which Vote Leave put out this evening when they did not get the debate proposal they wanted:

Unsurprisingly this has drawn a furious response. For example Robert Peston has vigorously denied the references to himself and ITV in the statement from Vote Leave as a "mad slur" and refutes that he ever campaigned for British Euro entry - what on earth

But the most extraordinary thing is the threat that because of ITV's handling of the debate "there will be consequences for its' future - the people at number 10 won't be there for long."

Good grief, who do Vote Leave think they are?

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