Every August in the UK, with startling regularity, there is a political meme that plays out in the press and the television media. Have exams got easier, or are the kids just getting cleverer, there are though other memes in the political space of the UK that occur with regularity, although maybe not every August, on such example is the "leadership tv debate".
Usually this meme shows it head during an election cycle where one side calls for it first, then the other sort of says yes, then a discussion occurs, the third party says "don't forget us", and then the even smaller parties start moaning about representation. Dates may get penciled into the diary at Shepherd Bush, and then something comes up, one side blinks, or forgets that that date was actually their kids school play, or whatever reason. The "TV debate" debate then gets shelved until the next time.
Yesterday, David Cameron kicked it off outside of the electoral cycle after writing on WebCameron that he hoped in "the next few days Gordon Brown will make clear that once he’s actually the Labour leader and Prime Minister, he’ll take part in proper TV debates that could really help bring politics to life." I cannot say that I disagree with David Cameron. Politics today, for most people, has become stale and soundbite driven. Unless you're a sad politico you're unlikely to watch the Commons, and even then the cut'n thrust adversarial style is not particularly appealing to many.
If we take look across the pond right now, the current TV debates that are going on - which are just for the Primaries for selecting a candidate - are having a massive impact on energising a debate. Even though turnout is historically low in the US, a quick look at the popularity of some of the debate videos on YouTube shows just what sort of appeal there is to seeing hopeful leaders discuss issues and flesh out their views.
The question is, will Brown go for it? So far, I can remember calls for television debates with every Tory leader and Blair since John Major. Yet they never actually happen. Is Brown different? We already know, during his time as Chancellor, that whenever something goes wrong he tends to disappear and let someone else take the wrap for the problem. Would he therefore be willing to engage in a TV debate where his tax credit fiasco, pensions, gold sell off, PFI et al, are challenged to his face on prime time?
In Parliament it is very easy for someone to be challenged on something, and then respond by not answering the question and simply attacking the person who criticised you instead. Hardly anyone is watching, and very few people read Hansard. The nature of news management and rolling news also means that it is rare that the minutiae about non-answer answers is reported in the press, but on prime-time TV you cannot get away with it so easily.
My gut tells me that Brown won't be up for it, at least not initially, they'll might be a few noises that sound positive, but then someone will discover that the diary has been double-booked. At that point we just sit and wait until the next time the suggestion of TV debates come up and watch the same process happen again.