Friday, May 20, 2016

Tricky stuff

It's squeaky-bum time for the producers trying to cast the various referendum debates ahead of June 23, with no-one making much noise about who they've got lined up - largely because the big names are being particularly precious. On the horizon for the next four weeks - ITV Debate June 9; YouTube/Buzzfeed/Telegraph debate June 14; BBC1 Question Time Special June 15; BBC1 Wembley Cage Fight June 21; C4 Paxo Debate June 22.

David Cameron set the tone, by saying he won't do "blue on blue". Thus he won't debate with Boris Johnson or Michael Gove; today he told LBC "I don’t want this to become a sort of Tory psychodrama".

Insiders say that Boris, for all his outward gung-ho, is following Dave's lead and rejecting big debates with Tory Remainers. He is also reluctant to take part in team debates where Farage and/or Galloway might be on the same side, fearing either lese-majeste or some sort of fatal upstaging. This leaves producers little option but to pair him with a Labour Brexiteer, such as Vote Leave Co-Convenor Gisela Stuart. But Labour's Remainer top dogs are resisting "red on red" encounters, so it's hard to persuade Hilary Benn, Tom Watson and Alan Johnson to engage in a wrangle with that duo.

Alex Salmond of the SNP fancies himself as a mean debater on just about anything, and has said he's prepared to share a platform alongside David Cameron, though Cameron will have none of it. No other SNP name is prepared to join a Tory Remainer. Salmond has offered to enter the ring against Farage, but Farage has tap-danced away. Labour Remainers won't play with Salmond either. So that's another little blind alley.

The LibDems will do anything anyone asks, with Paddy Ashdown in particular spoiling for a fight. How far down the bill will producers go ? There's still some fun to be had in making matches - how about Baroness (Karren) Brady versus Suzanne Evans ? Lord Mandelson v Iain Duncan-Smith ? Michael Gove v Tony Blair ?

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