So, according to recent polling, the majority of the British public want Theresa May to take part in a live TV debate ahead of the upcoming election. Regardless, she is still insistent on refusing. A lot of people are somewhat cross at her and seem to think that sharing Change.org petitions will force the PM to change her mind, which it goes without saying is a little silly. Then, today, Labour announced that Jeremy Corbyn won’t be attending any debate if May doesn’t do so either after BBC and ITV expressed a desire to go ahead without her. It goes without saying that, with both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition missing, there probably won’t be any TV debates after all.
That might be a shame, since these things are always pretty fun, but, I’d briefly like to explain why I think that:
- Theresa May’s refusal to take part is terrifically obvious
- Corbyn’s decision to not attend a debate without her is actually the right one.
Firstly, unlike the USA, the UK does not have a history of televised election debates. In fact, they’ve previously only happened in 2015 and 2010. That aside, May was never going to allow herself to be dragged into one because, to put it bluntly, she sucks at media and, unlike Cameron, has an opinion poll lead large enough to essentially warrant telling the broadcasters to go fuck themselves. May has nothing substantial to gain from a TV debate and a lot to lose, so the obvious response is to avoid it.
In 2001, when the Labour government had a similarly massive poll lead, William Hague (the Tory leader) practically begged Blair for a debate. However, Labour’s election wizards rightfully concluded that it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Blair, who was far better at media and debating than Theresa May, then won his second landslide and everyone moved on.
In 2010, when polls were on a knife’s edge, the first general election debate in British history was held, the star of which ended up being neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown but Nick Clegg, the charismatic new Liberal Democrat leader. As a large portion of the electorate at the time was both sick of Labour and still wary of the Conservatives, Clegg and the Lib Dems proceeded to rise spectacularly in the polls. TV election debates almost always benefit the underdogs.
But why shouldn’t Corbyn take part? Surely, if May doesn’t show up, that will give the opposition a very good platform to hammer the government? No. It won’t. Instead, it will probably result in the best case scenario for the Conservatives. This already happened before. In 2015, a second debate was held between all the major opposition parties after Cameron refused to come. The event descended into chaos as the opposition leaders quickly came to resemble the very “Coalition of chaos” that Conservative propoganda was warning the public about, with all the polls and pundits predicting a hung parliament.
So no, Corbyn shouldn’t show up to any debate if May is “Empty chaired.” That’s exactly what Crosby and CCHQ want.