John Harris

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In ducking the TV debates, David Cameron displays a contempt worthy of Downton Abbey | John Harris

Friday, March 6th, 2015

The prime minister once styled himself as open and up for a challenge. Now he acts like a cold power politician who believes rules need only apply to others

On April 15 2010, I watched the first of the three party leaders’ debates in the residents’ lounge of the Golden Sands B&B in Blackpool, run by Delwyn and Sylvia Hinds, who had agreed to take a break from laying tables and fluffing pillows to watch television in front of a Guardian video camera. After 90 minutes of exchanges between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the suddenly insurgent Nick Clegg, ITV’s Alastair Stewart said that what had happened was “an historic moment in television and political history” – and, in a slightly more modest way, my hosts seemed to agree.

Habitual Labour voters who had supported Thatcher in 1979 and were once again thinking of changing sides, they talked about the noisy, often indecipherable arguments that happened at prime minister’s questions, and how these very different exchanges allowed each party leader to calmly make their case. I may have grumpily complained about the presidentialisation of politics, but for two people who were after a steer on who to support, the debate was useful. “They should have them more often,” said Sylvia, “so people can listen to them [the leaders] individually.”

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