Obviously, putting Brown on TV is a very risky strategy - Sir Humphrey Appleby would have described it as ‘courageous’. The chances of Cameron messing-up are remote – he is not the sort of politician who claims to have ‘saved the world’ – and, crucially, I suspect Mr Brown would have made Richard Nixon look like Cary Grant. But, whilst the chances of Cameron being less than assured are slim, anything is possible and Brown had little to lose by appearing. Mandelson’s plan has the air of a political Hail Mary about it, but, if Brown was even remotely successful in debate, it could prove the route to Labour’s salvation because the expectations are so loaded in Cameron’s favour.
This affair has revealed a clear difference in thinking at Labour’s apex. Mandelson acknowledges that the situation is close to hopeless and the need to re-engage. “Our organisation has to be better, we have to campaign more effectively — and give a clear message,” he told the Standard. Where better to do that than on TV? By contrast, Brown’s refusal to participate confirms that he is deluded enough to believe that voters will come round to him without him changing his style of leadership, if you can call it that. His intransigence condemns his popularity to new depths.