Monday 26 November 2018

Theresa May's TV Debate Stunt

What was Theresa May's game? Running scared of head-to-head TV debates during the general election, and coming off second in the debates-by-proxy that did happen, why issue a live debate challenge to Jeremy Corbyn? Well, it turns out this isn't happening because Number 10 has reeled the kite in and sent out a blanket denial. Oh well.

From the standpoint of the Tories, however, such a debate isn't as kamikaze as it initially appears. There are two good reasons that present themselves. The first, which gained traction in media comment throughout the day is the belief May could and would win such a debate. On the points of detail of all 585 pages of her dreadful deal, there are few beyond the civil servants who negotiated it and the wonks who've pored over it who know the details as well as her. Dominic Raab was the Brexit secretary, but we know he wasn't really the Brexit secretary. May is in a strong position to highlight paragraph 18 of Annex E to make it appear as if the Labour leader hasn't done his homework. Another punch the PM might have hurled Jez's way is Brexit fatigue, as noted yesterday. Millions are fed up with Brexit and May is going to spend the next few weeks presenting herself as the Prime Minister who wants to shut it down, and JCorbz as the politician wanting to prolong it for party political reasons.

Naturally, Labour responded enthusiastically to May's offer. Unlike Prime Minister's Questions where May has a degree of control over its simulacrum of debate, any host worth their salt would have steered the discussion as they see fit. Some of it will be on May's terms. Some of it on Corbyn's, and Labour was banking that would be an opening to talk about wider political issues. Austerity, obviously, and what this means for hospitals, education, policing, etc. Brave is a PM who wants to go toe-to-toe with Labour on the cusp of another winter beds' crisis. Which is probably one contributing factor behind the challenge's hasty withdrawal.

Nevertheless, while this is an opportunity lost May's cold feet could mean Labour dodged a particularly nasty bullet. She's got nothing to lose. Thanks to her weakness and the awfulness of Brexit, her leadership position is as unassailable as it is untenable, and so it trundles on. However, if May was clever - and one should never underestimate a Tory's capacity for low cunning - getting Corbyn on a public platform in front of a live TV audience to agree with May and unambiguously rule out a second referendum might put a dent into Labour's support. This is the Scottish strategy - the Tories were toxic in Scotland and so during the referendum campaign they hugged Scottish Labour so close that the stench rubbed off and, well, we know what happened next. By sharing Brexit, by shifting some of the responsibility for the farcical negotiations and its ridiculous outcome onto the shoulders of Labour, May would have had the chance to spread the pain and hobble Corbyn in the same way the Tories are hobbled.

Chances of a TV debate now happening are about the same as May's deal has of getting through the Commons, yet the Tories may come to regret abandoning their gambit. Going one-on-one is a tricky business, but not just for May and co. It presents a considerable risk to Labour too.


Phil said...

According to The Sun, the debate is back on. Who knows what's happening?

Anonymous said...

who said the British people are sick of Brexit, we are not babies, I dont care if this goes on another 2 years as long as we dont have a second referendum and we leave the EU, including the customs union and possibly single market.

Boffy said...

Corbyn's main problem in such a debate is that for the last two years he has played second fiddle to the Tories Brexit proposals, rather than presenting a principled socialist internationalist opposition to the reactionary nationalism that Brexit represents.

The Tory media has a point in asking Labour representatives exactly what it is that Labour objects to in the Withdrawal Agreement, because the only real objection they can have is that the Withdrawal Agreements proposals for abiding by existing EU commitments on the Customs Union and Single market are only temporary rather than permanent.

Labour's proposals for having the benefits of the Custom Union and Single Market, including having a seat at the table, whilst being outside the EU, are no more credible than are the Tories proposals to have cake and eat it. So, as for so many of the half way house apologetic policies of Corbyn and McDonnell, where the merest breeze of opposition to anything radical in their politics has caused them to go into full retreat mode, means that yet again, Corbyn would be forced to appear duplicitous, hiding something about his real politics, unsure, contradictory and unconvincing.

The real problem is that he would appear that way, because that is the true nature of the politics that he and McDonnell have trod a steady path to over the last three years, hustled along in that direction by their Stalinist advisors.

Unknown said...

If the Sun says it then it must be true :P
Maybe the Tories read this blog and have reconsidered.

Jim Denham said...

Jeremy's position in short:

Labour would get a better deal in three months than the government has managed in two years by asking more nicely, but if we needed longer we could use the transition period to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement that must be agreed for the transition period to come into effect and we don’t like the Brexit deal agreed by Brussels, because it doesn’t provide the exact same benefits of EU membership which I disliked because of state aid and competition rules, but remaining is not necessarily better than leaving with no deal at all, and the outcome of the referendum must be respected but all options remain on the table, but a second referendum is not an option for today but could be tomorrow, and if it was I don’t know how I would vote.

Jason said...

Guardian reader, clearly.

Jim Denham said...

Well, a reader at least. Are you against that, Jason?