Tory leadership contest

TV debates could change the shape of the Tory leadership race

BY Iain Martin | tweet iainmartin1   /  28 May 2019

The BBC has announced that there will be televised hustings during the Tory leadership race. Thank goodness for that.

There was a risk that this contest could be confined to the wood-panelled committee rooms of Westminster, with the rest of us in the country forced to watch, noses pressed up against the window, as only Tory MPs hear the candidates debate with each other about what they want to do to Britain. After the Westminster phase, the two winners of the MP section will travel around addressing the Tory members who will choose the nation’s next Prime Minister.

Televised debates, which the rattled Tory party has no choice but to embrace, give everyone else a chance to take a look.

This could have a big impact on the race. A front-runner may blow up on screen, or seal the deal. An outsider could shine, as Lib Dem Nick Clegg did in the party leaders’ TV debates in 2010. Being desperate to choose a winner, MPs and Tory MPs will monitor voter response to these debates and the country – not in a good mood with the Tory party, to put it mildly – will be watching.

Fran Unsworth of the Beeb says:

“The decision being made by Conservative Party members will profoundly affect us all, so it feels right that BBC audiences get a chance to see the candidates’ debate with each other, and that we scrutinise the various policy proposals they will be standing on… it’s firmly in the public interest for audiences to question and hear from the next potential Prime Minister.”

Yep, you bet.

To counter the closed-shop-Tory-boys-playing-games feel to proceedings so far, the Beeb has announced it will host not one but a series of programmes. The first in mid-June will feature as many of the Grand National runners as are still standing at that point. Emily Maitlis will host.

The final two will then be invited to take part in a special edition of BBC Question Time, making their case to an audience of voters. Fiona Bruce will host.

Both of the final two will also be “invited” to be interviewed by my former boss Andrew Neil. What an encounter that promises to be. The BBC would – but won’t, it’s public service broadcasting – make a fortune selling the rights for Boris Johnson v Andrew Neil on pay per view…

The Beeb has – it appears – set this thing up quite cleverly. The candidates look totally terrible if they refuse. The Tory leadership race is logistically chaotic and organising anything involving all of them is akin to trying to herd cats. This way, the  candidates will all be “invited” to take part. Imagine how frit and fearful of the viewing public any contender who says “no” will look. Imagine the kicking they’ll get from their opponents and the press.

For several weeks the Beeb has been working on this quietly. Good on them. Let (televised) battle commence.

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