"I’m not particularly attracted by [televised] confrontations of personality. If you aren’t careful, you know, we’ll have a… what’s it called… Top of the Pops contest. Even though I dare say I would win it, I’m not very attracted by this as you then get the best actor as leader of the country and the actor will be prompted by a script writer. I’d rather have our old ways and put our policies firmly in front of the people.”
Swap “X Factor” for “Top of the Pops” and that could be David Cameron laying out his reasons for wanting to give the leadership debates the swerve ahead of the forthcoming General Election. In fact it was one of his predecessors, Alec Douglas-Home laying out his reasons for not wanting to have televised debates to Robin Day in 1963.
It’s easy - but wrong - to think that since the first series of US Presidential debates in 1960, between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, such debates have been a regular occurrence in America. In fact they didn’t happen again until 1976 with first Lyndon Johnson (1964) and then Nixon (1968 and 1972) doing more or less exactly what Cameron is doing now and refusing to debate by invoking the Federal Commission’s equal-time provision which meant that all candidates, including those from fringe parties had to take part. (The provision had been suspended for a year in 1960.) Even in 1980 President Jimmy Carter refused to take part in the first debate due to the inclusion of independent candidate John Anderson. The debate went ahead anyway. Carter was effectively empty-chaired. His main opponent Ronald Regan did show up and the rest, as they say, is history.