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Cameron’s preference for process over policy in pre debate blather

Posted on 14 April 2010 | 3:04pm

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.

** Buy the Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.

  • Patrick James

    I think the key is to remain cool and calm while the other becomes flustered and frustrated.

    Gordon Brown is great at being unflappable. David Cameron might get flustered if things aren’t going entirely his way.

    Personally I think the Conservatives manifesto launch has been a disaster for them.

    The message that has gone out to many people for the first time is that the Conservatives want them to start and run their own schools for their children.

    People I’ve been speaking to who don’t follow politics thing this is just absurd and laughable.

    I agree with them.

  • FP

    Mr Brown as the Ultimate Head of UK Plc failed to manage the UK economy in all counts as a failure of this magnitude in the private sector would have been dealt with immediate dismissal with no compensation. There is no second chance.

    Mr Brown failed to comprehend what financial institutions were up to. I am pretty certain, that even now he does not grasp the sytemic issues that the CDS market has exposed the democratic world to.
    I think Mr Brown should do the honourable and walk the plank !

  • Andy Taylor

    Great speech from Miliband on why Cameron isn’t breaking through:
    “Many commentators are scratching their heads at why a massively well-funded Conservative operation cannot seal the deal with the electorate. I think the reason is structural and substantive not stylistic. David Cameron’s leadership was weak and vacillating over the economic crisis because it was a market failure, and his whole philosophy is about government failure.

    His sink or swim approach to social change leaves people without protection. The expenses scandal on which he seeks to trade has made the electorate more determined to dig beneath the glib rhetoric. And as the Chris Grayling affair shows he has not changed his party – so people are leery about whether he could change the country.

    There is a Cameron wrapper around an old Tory product. It’s true of policy and it is true of values.”

  • Alex Sewell

    Hmmm, it certainly will be interesting. Personally, I think it might be hilarious if GB took the pi55 out of DC’s OTT Mr Positive ‘act’. Throw a bit of humour in there, I thought humour really worked for AD on Channel4 and for the whole team when they launched their Manifesto.

    I also hope that GB clearly makes the point you made yesterday re DIY Public Services and that this shows the Tories true colours and that their underlying core values have not changed at all. I think GB made that point yesterday re leaking school roofs etc. ‘Leopards never change their spots’ and ‘wolves in sheep clothing’ sping to mind.

    Bring it on and lets hope GB continues his recent great form in front of the cameras. Beware the Clegg too. Let’s hope GB has a few points to make to him too (one week he’s blue and the next he’s red).

  • Charles Bonhoff

    God, you’re pompous.

  • mattydug

    this seems to be a post about nothing. of the three manifesto launches, 2 were quite attractive human presentations and one was positively orwellian.
    i shall let your readers come to their own conclusions about which one that was.
    the debates for me are unimportant as tv can lead anyone to make a presentational mistake which should not detract from their messages.
    i think i would prefer it on radio.

  • s chapman

    Hows it going opposite GB in the TV debates warm up??

    Have you managed to get GB to stop spurting out in rapid fire mono-tone
    “joobbs,health,schools,police,debt er oops not debt I mean army cuts…oops Ive done those already..wheres Alastair…Alastair,Alastair what I say now Ive *uked it up “…bang goes the mic…next the camera and then Cleggy gets his notes round hie ear-oles..

  • Monarch458

    Well Alistair i think the DC is running scared…If i was next to Gordon…i would use his ability to take in Information and use it to good effect…Your analogy of 90 mins Footie game will appeal to GB im sure….Lets just say that the Playing Fields of Eton are far removed from the rugger fields of Edinburgh…Time for a bit of sporting revenge Gordon?

  • Niall

    Seems that Cameron’s complaints about the debate format and his talk of pre-debate nerves are all about lowering public expectations of his performance.

  • Brian Hughes

    Never mind about tomorrow’s schedule, ITV has Midsomer Murders on tonight.

    The storyline’s sure to be a lot more convincing than Dave Cameron’s….

  • Paul Lee

    The Tory Manifesto ‘Big Idea’ for ‘Broken Britain’ is a real vote loser; Cameron’s old school Cadet Corps values just won’t imprint onto modern British Society which needs and expects professionally run Public Services, not Dad’s Army amateurism. Sorry Dave but we think you just lost about 3% on the polls with this one.

  • Megan

    You & your man had better be burning the midnight oil preparing for this debate – you’re going to need it!

    Do you actually believe the stuff you write on this blog, or are you just trying to rally the troops? Most of it is more tribal than persuasive.

  • alex

    ‘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.’

    Where would that polling have taken place? La La land. You make no comment on GB’s rather late in the day admission that he wasn’t quite the all seeing, all knowing Chancellor he pretended to be. Even as late as 2007 he was heralding a ‘Golden Age’ in the city, whilst most of us could see the credit cycle was slowing down. Incompetence or hubris? Probably both; but certainly not someone fit for office, particularly when added up with his attitude to the armed forces.

    Who to believe – GB or the host of distinguished senior generals, brigadiers, majors, MOD accountants and so forth who have unpicked his lies time and again? Deceit or should that be, self deceit, is GB’s middle name. If he had had any level of intelligence to begin with he would have realised he was better suited to pursuing a middling academic career in some remote Scottish backwater than a career in politics.

    I read the other day that he is a fan of Hugh MacDiarmid. Ironic really as HM would have had no truck for a buffoon like Brown or indeed a crooked mouth.

  • Nick

    Anyone who has canvassed or leafleted in a marginal constituency so far as I have can testify that 1. Labour’s message is not getting through – the public are simply not listening, and 2. The electorate cannot wait to get rid of Gordon Brown.

    My impression is that the national polls are over-estimating Labour support, and that they are heading for a heavy defeat on 6th May.

  • Richard Burnell

    Good News: GB is not nervous. Well he ought to be. You have been working on the sow’s ear, apparently, but you cannot stop him being a liar!

    Don’t forget to remind him to say World Crisis lots of times, “I am Middle Class” loads of times.

    Humility: after 13 years it does not work GB.

    Blair + = Votes –

    This willl be a defining appearance by your man all right.

  • Power2010

    I volunteer for Power2010, we campaign for reforms backed by the public. We’re holding an event in Manchester city centre today, drop by if you’re interested!

  • James (good luck part 2)

    My last post may have been confusing. The work cannot be done now. You are where you are. Important thing is to go in optimistic.
    Just want to say good luck for you and Gordon.
    A time to talk to the electorate. Most people are undecided. Gordon’s time to shine. Time to show people what the Conservatives really stand for. Remember you are talking to the electorate at home. Just get your message across why the Conservatives would be bad for this country. Because at the moment they do not know it. Your record is good so don’t be shy in showing it. Gordon’s knows his stuff.
    Also important for Gordon to stay in front of computer for too long. The bright screen or electromagnetic radiation has a clogging effect on the brain. Make sure he goes in fresh confident and happy.

  • James – (Cameron -Labour telling lies)

    Just read Cameron is planning to attack Labour’s ‘lies about policy’.
    “Labour campaign literature has suggested the Conservatives will cut benefits for pensioners including free TV licenses and winter fuel payments.”

    This accusation is a straw man divertory tactic used to divert attention from what they really stand for. Very damaging and will create the impression that they care more than Labour. Which is rubbish. So appeal to traditional conceptions of the Tories as the nasty party. Tell them of their previoyus record. It was also Labor that introduced these things. Say that you expect them to go pretty quick if Cameron gets into office. Then ask who is nicer to pensioners.
    Really important to be able to know what you are going to say and real off the facts to create an impressive rebuttal.

    So make sure you are ready for that accusation in your revised answers.

    ‘The facts are…’ Also bring in what Conservatism is in general. To conserve the wealth. For the few not the many. Attack ideology rather than policy. Create the impression that that their constituency candidates are only interested in business interests. As I said in my blog, 48 of the 206 Conservative PPCs identified as possible winners worked in the City or finance before politics.
    Many more Tory candidates work in the lobbying industry

  • Tricky Dickie

    For the first time in 3 years Brown will have the opportunity to complete a sentence. The media have stiffled the message with their views not news agenda.

    Cameron will have to string more than 3 arguments together at the same time. Very difficult to avoid exposing his “say one thing to one crowd and another to the next”
    I hope Gordon manages to relax…he does not have much to lose in this debate. He is at his best when being open and honest with a touch of humanity which Cameron finds hard to fake.
    Cameron will find it difficult to switch off his PMQ’s style of hectoring and bullying…..I hope he gets carried away with himself….Gordon should just respond with the line from Reagan “there you go again”
    Clegg would be wise to stand back a bit and just leave them to it….he has nothing to lose either.
    The most important debate will be the economy debate…Cameron is hopelessly out of his depth on figures especially if Gordon forces him to break them down. Its one thing to remember them by rote another to understsnd the calculations behind them.

  • Richard

    “The idea that GB is substance and DC is style is firming up.”

    Firming up – ie not actually there yet. Even you didn’t try to claim that people like him. Says it all really.

    Can’t wait to hear GB delivering endless tractor production statistics. Going to be riveting

  • Rajinder

    Hi Alistair

    I just wanted to say how great I think the design of your website is. Great colours, bold expression of content and everything is so easily accessible.

    Also, I don’t work for the website company; I just wanted to express my opinion on great design when I see it.

    All the best.

  • Cameron Shanks

    Just you very effectively take on Adam Boulton on Sky News! Well done, can’t believe that man is allowed to be a presenter!

    Hoping for a Lib/Lab coalition, very excited.

    Also, well done Gordon Brown for standing down in such a dignified manner.