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Exposed: Tories and Lib Dems desperate to avoid policy debate

Posted on 25 April 2010 | 3:04pm

If ever anything showed the Tory and Lib Dem fear of having a serious debate on substance it is the outcome of three-party discussions about a joint plea to broadcasters to do more policy and less process. As of last night, senior people in the three parties agreed  there was considerable merit in the idea of approaching the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to make the point that whilst the TV debates had energised the campaign, the public service broadcasters were not doing the traditional reporting of the different arguments of the parties in all areas of policy. The Lib Dems were keen. Senior shadow cabinet members said they had been having exactly the same discussions at Central Office and were keen to change the terms of the debate so that the TV debates did not absorb such vast quantities of the election oxygen.

This morning, it was all change. First the Lib Dems, then the Tories, decided to leave things as they are.

And I wonder why. The Tories were the first to suffer from scrutiny of policy which led to Mr Cameron’s glide to power becoming a slow and rather directionless waltz. And now the Lib Dems are starting to stumble for precisely the same reason – Trident, DNA, immigration amnesties, cutting child tax credits. So just one party is left wanting a genuine debate focused on a serious policy debate. Ironically there are senior broadcasters arguing for the same thing. A united front from the parties might have helped them win the argument for more policy-based debate for the final stages of the campaign. It is a fascinating insight into the Tories and the Lib dems that they didn’t want it and prefer all the blah-de-blah to a proper and detailed examination of policy.

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  • Charlie

    Do you always whinge like this when you dont get your own way ?

  • Robert Jackson

    Nick Clegg has rather shot himself in the foot this morning by insisting that he would not form a coalition with a party that did not have the largest vote share.

    My father has received several letters from LD HQ seeking his vote in a rural area – reckoned a Con/LD marginal. It would be a tactical vote as he is a Labour stalwart.

    Yet, if he votes tactically for the LD’s then Clegg says to dad “because you did not vote Labour then your party has a lower vote share so I am going to form a coalition with the Conservatives”.

    i.e. – Thank you for your vote – now get stuffed.

    It would be sensible if Clegg really really really wants tactical support in Con/LD marginals to come up with something slightly more nuanced than this idiotic stance.

    Otherwise he can look forward to kissing goodbye to Labour votes he needs in his west country marginals.

  • Selina

    I agree with Robert – I’m in a Con/LD marginal and have usually voted LD tactically. However, there’s no way I’m going to do that if

    a) Clegg may form a coalition with the Tories
    b) He’s going to use the number of votes as a sort of back door PR to justify his actions.

  • Steven

    Good point made in post re tactical voting. Clegg gains some authority the greater the share of the vote his Party gets but far more will result from more seats. The Libdems discouraging tactical voting is equally likely to lose them seats rather than gain them. Is Clegg`s media success going to his head? If the Libdems slip a bit in the polls it`ll be interesting to see if he backtracks though I doubt he will. Is Clegg`s overly aggressive posturing part of his `new politics`? It looks like old politics to me. Methinks his main aim, rather than improve the economic and social welfare of everyone, is to secure a better future for his party by getting PR. I suppose he`d say the those two aims accord with each other. Re PR, will the UK want that with a squabbling hung parliament and fragile recovery? He`s a gambler and I suppose he reckons that he`ll do at least as well as the Libdems did last time so he can`t lose. Speaking of gambling, I`ve just looked at the odds from one of the leading bookmakers and can`t believe how generous they are (and thereby depressing I suppose) for a small Labour overall majority. Worth a punt though I reckon when there`s still time for Con & Libdem gaffes and also the significant section of the population which doesn`t take part in polls and which only shows its hand on the day. I recall that hardly any polls gave Major the share of the vote he ended up with in `92.

  • Mike T

    This post from the guy thought it would be a good idea to have an Elvis impersonator sing to and endorse Gordon Brown! Unbelievable.
    I listened to GB’s speech in full yesterday. I thought it was one of the best so far in the campaign – from the heart – powerful stuff.I then watched numerous news reports and video clips on the news sites. Very little coverage of the content of GB’s speech but lots of cringe worthy moments. The audience looking perplexed, GB trying to ignore “Elvis” as he sang into his ear etc.
    What a wasted opportunity and what a bewildering message to send out to voters. I thought you were supposed to be good at this sort of stuff. Why have you let the wheels fall of this campaign?

  • spooney

    AC – I think its time to go in hard on Nick Clegg – After today’s mutterings he can’t be trusted, I’m sure he will prop up Cameron given half a chance.
    I don’t believe for one minute he thinks he is going to beat the tories, but I’m sure he believes he can get second place, in front of Labour – and become the official leader of the opposition.
    Labour really need to make this week count – what about full page ads in the papers? What about GB doing unannounced walkabouts? It would be great to see him at speakers corner, on a soap box spelling out why the tories would WRECK the recovery. Come on lads, make this week count!!

  • Patrick James

    Gordon Brown is absolutely right to stick to policies and demand that policies be debated in this general election campaign.

    There is very little in actual governance that necessitates the skills required for participating in a game show.

    We want to know what the parties are actually going to do if they form the next government.

    If Gordon Brown sticks with describing his policies and to matters of substance it is my belief Labour will win the general election.

    Some say Labour are in third place but the difference between the parties is only a few percentage points.

  • Pam Nash

    Oh dear – your party is beginning to look increasingly desperate, Alastair. The Elvis thing, though, was inspired – him and Gordon onstage together; 2 men trying to make you think they’re something that they’re really not. Whoever in Labour thought that up?

  • Andrew Holden

    Am I ever going to see a Labour poster on a real-life billboard during this campaign ?
    Surely the party can afford a few going into the final stages of the campaign ?

  • Andrew Holden

    As polling day approaches I hope Gordon Brown will crank up the idea of the Tory emergency budget. Lets face it – if you are going to keep things roughly as they are, with ‘only’ £6b spending cuts in year, what is the point of an emergency budget? By saying you are going to have one you are telling the dumb voters that within 50 days you’ll be raising taxes and cutting spending, not just making ‘efficiency savings’. It was announced as a macho bit of PR posturing, so now he has to explain why he needs one and how painful it will be.

  • Vote yellow – get Brown

    After thirteen years of New Labour the electorate are very familiar with Gordon Brown’s policies and their consequences. The electorate are presently engaged in avoiding anymore of Brown’s Boom and Bust ideas!

  • spooney

    Just read something on another site which I absolutely agree with – Clegg is beginning to sound and act very arrogant. Even Paddy Ashdown said earlier he couldn’t contemplate working with the tories. I’m sure many people considering voting Lib Dem, won’t be as keen if they know he is going to put Cameron in number 10.

  • Les

    Unless someone has an idea for a poster Photoshopping Nick and Dave at the previous debate as a couple of Elvis impersonators with the slogan “GET REAL YOU TWO!” The Elvis stunt will be the “meme” for Gordons Election.

    Helpfull hint No.1 :- If it isn’t, get some dozy bugger on it right away because none of the commonly viewed vids of the thing show GB’s punchline, leaving everyone involved looking like complete fools.
    No. 2 :- If not, hide the bung the Tory party gave the organizer, and the one to you for hyping it so much.

  • Davey Bell

    I thought GB was mounting a serious comeback, after survivng the first two debates, with the economy debate to come I thought he had every chance to turn things around, then came Elvis.

  • Dave

    what is intriging about the labour party is that it claims to be democratic, yet when we look just a little closer we see 13 years of serious mismanagement, spin and leaders unelected to their senior roles in govt and policy making. If everthere was a group of individuals who have turned people off politics it is you, Gordon, Peter M and Charlie Whelen.

  • Steven

    AC`s point re the letter to public service broadcasters does get a mention in Nick Robinson`s BBC blog today and the draft letter is set out. After an admittedly quick trawl I haven`t seen any mention of it elsewhere nor heard anything on the radio which is a shame. It doesn`t look like it`ll become much of a talking point which it should be. It makes me wonder whether anything will override the hung parliament navel gazing during the rest of the campaign. Labour are still pushing for more policy debate and that has to continue whatever goes on in the media. If Labour play a dead bat to the post-election speculation and keep steering back to policy then it leaves the other two parties to fit square pegs in round holes with each other. I can`t see that doing either DC or NC much good.
    Commiserations Alastair regarding Burnley.

  • Kathy

    That Elvis thing was hilarious and so embarrassing for Labour. Now the headlines will be – Elvis has now left the building and taken Gordon Brown and the Labour Party with him. Whoever is running this campaign must want Labour to lose.


    Cameron still waltzing while Brown sits on the dance floor watching Elvis. The first certainty is that Labour will not win the election and GB will go . That gives me great delight and worth the election to get rid of a non elected PM.

    Labour have only one policy i.e do nothing , increase the debt and pay more interest. Credit card overspend theory. Once again the Conservatives will have to sort out the financial mess. Look at the history not the spin.

    Alastair. First part of my double up:- Burnley to be relegated and a Conservative government. Life can be a bitch sometimes..

  • Graham Jones

    There is one simple truth, the tories, the lib-dems, the BBC, ITV, CH4, Sky and all the right-wing press are scared to debate policy. They know that Labour will win, so they avoid it like the plague.
    It is an affront to the democratic values of this country, when two of the main political parties and the British press, start running scared of a political debate, that is centered around the actions promised in the party manifestos.
    They know that if the public were confronted with the truth, alarm bells would go off all over the country.
    It is right that Labour confront the media on this, or there will continue to be an impasse. In truth the media are the guiltiest of all. They are deceiving the public, by refusing to focus on the words and deeds of the three main parties.
    It is shameful to cower from the truth in this way, when there is so much at stake.

  • David

    Hi Alastair

    I have written to my local MP in the following terms:

    “Dear Election Agent

    I understand fully the position that Nick Clegg is in with regard to questions from the media regarding a possible hung parliament. However, I think his statement today on one possible outcome, is arrogant and ill judged.

    It is arrogant because firstly. he has to put in a really incredible performance on the economy this Thursday and second the Liberal Democratic Party has to obtain more VOTES than the Labour Party on May 6th. The latter consideration is a tall order considering the need to get out the vote in every constituency, not just marginal seats. I believe he will live to regret his words today.

    It is ill judged because ——- has now lost my vote and possibly many others. I have in the past voted tactically for you. I shall now vote Labour. I still hope that ———- wins.

    Please do not waste valuable time responding, should you think about doing so, your time would be better spent on the campaign or having a quiet word in Nick Clegg’s ear.

    Yours Sincerely

    I do not know how many people feel as I do but can tell you I am furious. I have blanked out names as I have no wish to involve my local hard working MP.

    Best Wishes

  • Mrs.Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    Hello everyone. Yes it doesn’t seem fair if it’s true the public service broadcasters aren’t reporting what the electorate would normally expect in terms of important, different arguments and policy positions. We’re not stupid but that’s the media for you! On the other hand perhaps it would be too much to expect the libdems and conservatives to understand what good policy in practice really means..they seem to have difficulty believing the truth in any event or so it seems.

    Anyway, what’s this “election oxygen” when it’s at home? I dare say if we want to change the terms of the debate so that the TV debates did not absorb such vast quantities of “election oxygen” then we had better wake up to the fact that this so-called election oxygen is really citizens time and energy.. and it’s not free ( see point 1.1 of H.M treasury’s Transformation agreement October 2007)..Thus said, surely all our policies wont using and to use the policies properly and efficiently of course the public want to be more completely informed about what might happen to them “in practice” after the election. Or at least I do. – For example; I’ve been wondering what will happen to all those beautiful policies like ” Creating a patient-led NHS ” and “Positively diverse”, amongst many others, which have been so inspiring and informative.

  • Chris lancashire

    Do us a favour – New Labour was built on policy-lite ideals. The only policy the party had was to get power. Having got it, it didn’t have a clue what to do and fell to micromanaging irrelevant details whilst simultaneously ruining a perfectly good economy.
    Both Tories and Liberals have enunciated policy just as clearly, if not more than Labour.
    As your wonderful leader might say – get real.

  • Alex

    Blimey – Nulab pravda in overtime this morning.

    Substance? 13 years of substantial incompetence, hubris and dishonesty. You cannot have an honest debate on policy with someone who has a history of laying claim to other people’s successes whilst denying any responsibility for things which went wrong under his watch. (Speak to the Europeans or the US and GB’s claims on leading the global economic recovery are laughable to say the least).

    Some would say that your appearance at the Iraq inquiry (and on Marr) was all ‘blah-de-blah’ poor me avoidance of a detailed examination of the facts. Yawn – its what Nulab have been doing for years, spin over substance, and its exactly what the public are tired of. Its a question of credibility you see, and unfortunately for you lot, GB and his cabinet have none.

    Bye bye Burnley, bye bye Brown, bye bye AC.

    Alex (former Labour voter, for my sins)