Peter Hoskin

Brown’s uncertainty over a TV debate exemplifies his moribund premiership

Brown's uncertainty over a TV debate exemplifies his moribund premiership
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So what's the story with Brown and the leaders' TV debate?  There were reports, weeks ago, that the PM was going to use his speech today to, ahem, "challenge" his opposite numbers to a debate, but then Sky intervened and Downing Street fell silent.  Last we heard, Brown was veering towards a debate, but was still uncertain about the timing of it all.

Now, this morning's FT reports that Brown "spent hours on Monday night agonising" over whether to mention a televised debate in his speech today.  Nick Robinson has followed that up by saying that the relevant passage has been removed from the speech.  If Brown does finally accept a debate, Robinson writes, then he may attach a set of demands which will slow the whole process down.

Brown's reluctance to take part in a televised debate beggars belief.  It probably wouldn't do him much good, but - given the state his premiership is in - he has to seize each and every game-changing opportunity that's available.  A TV debate could be such an opportunity.  But the longer this uncertainty goes on, the more political capital Brown loses.  And the more political capital Cameron and Clegg gain.

I imagine many Labour supporters will find it profoundly depressing.  Peter Mandelson has spent most of the past few days talking about fighting not quitting.  But, even if that alone has had some effect, where's the actual fight?  We've had headline policies – like an expected crackdown on bonuses and an extension of the car scrappage scheme – which hardly set the world alight, and which do nothing to correct Brown's perennial problem: the absence of an overarching vision.  And now we've got Brown seemingly spurning one of the few lifelines he has left. There's only one word for it: moribund.