Unsurprisingly Ed Miliband focused his questions on the prospective General Election Leaders’ debates and David Cameron’s refusal to take part without the inclusion of the Greens, following today’s news that Ed, Nick Clegg, and Nigel Farage have written identical letters to the Prime Minister regarding his involvement in the debates. The PM’s claim that the debates cannot take place without all three of the minor parties in the UK was met with accusations from Miliband that the PM is simply running scared. Ed rightfully asserted that these debates belong to the British public and it is not for the politicians to decide who takes part in the debate but instead the broadcasters, who are (at least more) independent and do not hold a vested interest in their outcome.
The best line from Miliband came as he said that he is willing to debate anyone that the broadcasters invite to take part – a bold offer and one I am not sure his advisers would necessarily agree with – but it did the trick in exposing the incoherence of the PM’s position. To echo Miliband’s words ‘he doth protest too much’ and I suspect we shall see a u-turn on the PM’s position on the debates soon enough. All in all a confident performance from the Leader of the Opposition and one of the best I’ve seen in long time.
Not only did Miliband manage to deliver a strong performance in today’s PMQs, but he did so with a degree of wit! Rather foolishly, as it turned out, Cameron was led on to the subject of the BBC Leaders’ debates. Cameron’s refusal to appear unless the Green Party are also included has backfired – rather than the strong stance on democracy and free speech I am sure he thought he might be demonstrating, he came across as petulant and weak.
My own views on the debate ‘issue’ again closely echoes Miliband’s: that it cannot be up to the politicians to decide who they will be debating. Whilst I understand the logic of having the Green Party included, a far more reasonable response comes from Miliband who – instead of rashly shying away from all debate – stated today that he would engage in public debates with any party who was invited. He seems to understand and agree that as political leaders they have a duty of transparency towards the country. In a PMQs which also addressed the freedom of the press and their responsibility to make Government accountable to the public, there seems no question that Cameron has made a mistake in his protests.
Today was a split session, as is often the case when PMQs follows a tragedy. The sombre tone which has pervaded news and politics since last week’s events in France meant the opening salvos concerned terrorism and freedom of speech. The most notable aspect of the conversation was the agreement between Messrs Cameron and Miliband, whose parties haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye on the Government’s recently mooted efforts to mitigate the risks of Islamist terrorism and militancy to the UK. However it was over in a flash, as a relatively wobbly Cameron argued that the passage of anti-terrorism legislation proved that this is not in fact a zombie parliament…which was a slightly tough sell.
Miliband then moved on to some impressive lines on the Leaders’ debates, although those watching on mute probably wouldn’t have noticed. Cameron continues to retain his bragging and confident aura even when he’s on the ropes, something which may come in handy if he does decide to take part in the Leaders’ debates.