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Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

On Wednesday afternoon, I wondered if my eyes and ears had deceived me. I had watched Prime Minister’s Question Time, and believed that Ed Miliband had trounced David Cameron. On both immigration and the TV debates, Cameron didn’t seem to have any answers and, for once, Miliband piled home his advantage.

So that’s what I tweeted. But many lobby journos thought the opposite. James Chapman of the Daily Mail and Jim Pickard of the Financial Times both felt that Cameron had played a bad hand well. They were in the press gallery, but I watched it on TV. However, they were not alone. I’ve always marvelled at how different people can watch the same event and draw completely different conclusions.

 

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It’s not often that an MP threatens to resign his seat in the middle of a live radio interview, but that’s what Colonel Bob Stewart did when I interviewed him on Wednesday afternoon. He’s very angry at defence cuts, and had told leading generals that it would make a huge impact if they resigned their positions in protest.

I put it to him that it was politicians, not generals, who make defence policy and that, as a member of the Defence Select Committee, perhaps it would be better if he took the lead and led by example. Much to my surprise, he took up the cudgels and said that not only might he resign from the committee but he was thinking of resigning his seat too.

But not now. Of course, the last MP to resign his seat on a point of principle won it back, and David Davis will believe till his dying day that he did the right thing. But he ruined his prospects of holding top political office in the process. Will Stewart carry out his threat? I doubt it, but it is indicative of how strongly many Conservative MPs feel about defence spending at the moment.

 

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I’ve always thought that Gus O’Donnell was a bit of a dick. This week, he’s proved it. He made an outspoken attack on politicians, calling them out of touch and much more besides. He attacked them for having chauffeur-driven cars, saying that they don’t “get” public services. Someone remind me how the former Head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, got to work every day. Yes, that’s right. In a chauffeur-driven car. Effing hypocrite.

 

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I went out for dinner on Wednesday night with two members of the South African band Mango Groove. They’re over here to do a concert at the Hammersmith Apollo tomorrow night. I decided to take them to Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden. We placed our orders, and I asked the waiter for some bread to tide us over until the main food arrived. A few minutes later he came back and rather shame-facedly told us that they had run out of bread. At 8.30 in the evening! Perhaps he should have let us eat cake instead.

 

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Back in the autumn, Biteback published a series of books called Why Vote… covering the four main political parties. In January, we added Why Vote Green to the list. I’ve calculated sales up until the end of February, and these are the figures.

UKIP: 26.7 per cent.
Labour: 23.5 per cent.
Conservative: 17.6 per cent.
Green: 17.5 per cent.
LibDem: 14.7 per cent.

It’s a very good performance for the Why Vote Green book as it’s only been on the shelves for a little over a month.

Interestingly, UKIP voters are the most eBook friendly, with 13 per cent of the ‘Why Vote UKIP’ book being downloaded on the Kindle or via iBooks or the Nook. By way of contrast only two per cent of the Why Vote Green book are eBook sales. How ironic that the Greens kill more trees than their counterparts. However, Green purchasers are more likely to buy direct from the Biteback or Politicos websites than Amazon, so good for them!

 

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Frit. Coward. Hypocrite. Just three of the words being thrown at the Prime Minister over his refusal to debate head to head with the Leader of the Opposition. He’s offered to take part in a single, eight-way, debate – but only if it takes place before the election campaign starts at the end of this month.

At the time of writing, the broadcasters have yet to respond. The question is: will they blink? Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me. If they have any balls, they will tell Cameron that it’s not for him to veto the rules of engagement, and say that the debates will go ahead with or without the Prime Minister’s participation.

Political expediency shouldn’t come in to the equation here. If you look at David Cameron’s comments in 2009 on the pros and cons of leaders’ debates, and compare them to what has happened now, the only conclusion you can draw is that Number 10’s tactics in these negotiations are determined solely by party advantage.

This is no way for a statesman to behave. Bear in mind that he said: “These debates will now be a fundamental part of the political process”. He was right then, and he should stick to that now. Elections campaigns are there for politicians to debate each other – whether it be on a constituency level or nationally.

In 2009, it was perfectly possible to argue against leaders’ debates on the basis that we don’t have a presidential system, but that’s not what David Cameron did. The genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back. Tim Montgomerie has consistently argued that these debates can never advantage a Tory leader. He may well have a point, but I’d like to think we could all rise above narrow party political advantage from time to time.

This whole issue is yet another example of blundering by Number 10. It’s all very well for Craig Oliver, the Director of Communications, to send a truculent letter to the broadcasters blaming them for handling the issue very badly. He’d be better off looking in a mirror.

Gary Gibbon, Channel 4’s political editor, disagrees. He writes: “Abandoning consistency and deploying ruthless determination and guile, David Cameron has got his way or something close to it. Some will think that could be an omen for the election itself.”

Well, he may be right, but there will be some who will think twice about voting for a prime minister who won’t debate his opponents. But then again, if Ed Miliband fails to make hay out of this, that will be very telling too.

81 comments for: Iain Dale: How Bob Stewart mulled resigning his seat live on air this week

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