Cameron: TV debates detracted from 2010 election campaign

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David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown
Image caption,
The 2010 general election TV debates were unchartered territory for the three contenders

Televised debates ahead of the 2010 general election "took all the life out of the campaign", Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

He suggested that the format agreed between the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems had rendered the debates "quite dry".

"I think we could learn from last time," he told a Westminster lunch.

Labour accused the PM of trying to "ditch the TV debates simply because he is too scared to defend his record".

Vice-chairman of the Labour Party Michael Dugher said: "At the next election, David Cameron should have to defend his decisions and his record - from a disastrous economic record to the fact that we now have fewer nurses in our NHS and fewer police officers fighting crime.

"The public will rightly want to see him and Ed Miliband questioned properly about what changes we need for the future of the country, including during the general election campaign itself."

'Awkward moments'

A spokesman for the Lib Dems told the BBC that the TV debates had helped to connect people to the democratic process and "realistically" they were likely to feature ahead of the next general election.

But Mr Cameron's concern that they had detracted from other campaigning efforts was "probably felt by all political leaders", he added.

The prime minister told a meeting of political journalists: "I think TV debates are good. I enjoyed them last time - particularly the last one."

Since the UK had now moved to fixed-term Parliaments, there would be enough time before 2015 to agree on how to stage the debates "in a slightly different way", he suggested.

"I haven't made my mind up exactly what we should do, but I am in favour of these debates. My reflection on last time was that they did take all the life out of the campaign.

"The press and all of us were interested in the run-up to the debate, the debate and the post-debate analysis, not the rest of the campaign, which I really enjoy.

"I like campaigning, I like being out there, the public meetings, the awkward moments, the difficulties - it is an incredibly exciting time, trying to explain what you are about and what you are trying to do."

'Time to think'

Following prolonged negotiations between the three political parties and BBC, ITV and Sky News ahead of the 2010 debates, strict rules were agreed on the style of questioning and the division of time for leaders' answers.

"We started with TV debates that were easy to agree, because they were quite controlled," Mr Cameron said.

"I think that was right because we wanted everyone to sign up, but as a result they were quite dry - what really mattered was just delivering the soundbite down the camera, rather than a proper debate and more interaction.

"I think we could learn from last time. I have got an open mind and there is still two-and-a-half years to go before we have to really think about it."