As I was reading my 6 year old my favourite bed time story last night, this line jumped out at me and called to mind the merry dance that our esteemed Prime Minister has led broadcasters, his political opponents and, indeed, the entire nation as he tries to do a Billy Flynn tap dance around whether or not there will be a leaders debate as part of the General Election campaign.
Leaving aside for one moment some of the brilliantly funny pieces on YouTube that edit together what David Cameron was saying about the importance for debates in the lead up the last General Election as compared with his current weak excuses to avoid debates, you have to ask why the leader of our country and the man who faces public scrutiny every week at Prime Minister’s question time is being so coy, if not frankly evasive about debates over the next few weeks.
There has been a lot of debate about the debates and the general view is that the Prime Minister and the team with whom he surrounds himself recognise that he badly underperformed last time around. They also worry about who will be this election's “Nick”? By that, I do not mean who will sell their soul and go into a coalition with a party that stands for everything you ought to be against; and be complicit in some deeply regressive and illiberal laws. Instead, I mean who will be the star performer in the debates.
I, nevertheless, believe there is another reason for the Prime Minister’s evasiveness. If the debates go ahead, the Prime Minister will require to defend the policies his party has pursued over the last 5 years. The problem, I think, is that I do not think David Cameron has been the architect of many of the Tory policies that they have pursued in government. Cameron is not a grand visionary politician. Prime Ministers ought to have vision. They must have a grand plan and that must be the thread that winds through all of the government’s objectives. But can anyone really say that they know who David Cameron is, what he stands for or what his grand vision is? The truth is that the policies that he has been fronting are either born in the mind of other politicians, such George Osbourne, or cannot be justified in any way other than as payback for political support the Tories have received over the years.
Take the raft of changes brought in by the Conservatives to attack workers’ rights; victims of accident, injury and disease; and the trades unions and lawyers who represent them. These policies do not and cannot form part of a grand plan. Attacking rights as they do, so vitriolically, must be judged against those who will benefit from the laws. We must ask ourselves why the Prime Minister has pandered to the insurers and employers lobby? Why has he handed employers and insurers a loaded deck of cards in the litigation process? Why has he given employers carte blanche to mistreat and injury their employees with virtual impunity?
These are the questions I want David Cameron to try (because he can’t) to answer. These are the issues that I want to see David Cameron try (because he can’t) to defend. That is why I think it is essential for democracy for there to be public debates.