James Forsyth

Telegraph: Brown planned to use his conference speech to challenge Cameron to a series of debates

Telegraph: Brown planned to use his conference speech to challenge Cameron to a series of debates
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There’s a an intriguing story in the Telegraph today which goes some way to explaining Labour’s confusion last week over whether or not Brown wanted a TV debate with Cameron. Andy Porter, who is well connected in the Brown circle, reports that Brown planned to challenge Cameron to a series of debates in his conference speech and is furious at Mandelson for giving the game away. (Cynics might say that this story reflects rather too well on Brown and shows that some in his circle are not entirely reconciled to Mandelson's influence).

It is easy to see the thinking behind Brown’s original plan. Brown could frame the challenge as a chance for Cameron to prove that he was not all style and no substance. By taking the initiative, Brown could set the terms of the debate—eg how many there would be, what the topics would be and the like.

Certainly, there would have been a media clamour for Cameron to say straight-away whether or not he accepted Brown’s invitation. It also would have dominated coverage of Brown’s speech, making him appear bold and confident.

One wonders what Brown will do now. The fact he was planning to challenge Cameron to debate shows that he accepts that he is, to use Mandelson’s phrase, “the underdog” in this coming campaign. Brown still needs a chance to go head to head with Cameron as it is one of the very few potential game changers there is left. So, I wouldn’t be that surprised if Brown still ends up issuing this challenge.  

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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