Before Christmas, David Cameron tightened up the rules about ministers going overseas. He wanted them in this country campaigning as much as possible. But, unsurprisingly, his visit to President Obama in Washington this week hasn’t fallen foul of his edict.
This trip to Washington is the source of much satisfaction at the heart of government. There are some serious issues on the agenda—the world economy and cybersecurity—but as one of those involved in preparing for it admits, ‘‘There’ll be some crunchy stuff, but it’ll be a very nice photo op, too!’. Indeed, Cameron standing next to Obama at the White House will be a useful way of reminding voters of the Prime Minister’s standing on the world stage in an election in which the Tories are hoping that his advantage over Miliband on leadership, the so-called ‘stature gap’, will be one of their trump cards.
This stature gap is why Cameron doesn’t want to debate Miliband. The Tory leadership fears that just putting Miliband on the same stage as Cameron in a Prime Ministerial debate will make him look a more credible contender for the job. They also fret that expectations are so low for Miliband that he is bound to beat them. As one senior Tory puts it, ‘If he doesn’t tip over his shoelaces, he wins’. If these were reasons enough for them not to do it, they also believe that the format favours the outsider—which is why Clegg did so well in 2010—and so Ukip and Farage would likely get a big boost if they went ahead.