PMQs Verdict: Cameron runs scared of the debates
At some point David Cameron acquired a reputation for being a skilled frontman for the Conservative party.
Quite how he acquired this reputation has long been a mystery to me. Rather than being a slick operator, Cameron often comes across as evasive, prickly and borderline robotic in his public performances. Despite his reputation for confidence he is apparently terrified of debate and scrutiny. One of Cameron's first acts as prime minister was to cancel regular Downing Street press conferences, while one of his last acts has been to effectively kill off the general election debates altogether.
Quick to anger, with a tendency to bark at people rather than talk to them, Cameron is in reality a decidedly weak public face for his party. If he has acquired a different reputation it is because of the even greater paucity of his opponents rather than any actual skill of his own.
If Cameron was genuinely the political asset he is made out to be, he would have little to fear from debating either Ed Miliband or Nigel Farage. The fact that he is willing to suffer widespread public ridicule for the next four months rather than spend a mere one hour debating the two men suggests that he is nowhere near as confident in his own abilities as his supporters pretend to be.
His excuse at prime minister's questions today, that he is somehow concerned about the unfairness of excluding the Greens from the debates, is so weak that even Cameron appeared to struggle to make it. And yet make it he repeatedly did.
"I'm all for these debates taking place," insisted Cameron in what was possibly the least believable statement he will make this year.
"But you cannot have two minor parties without the third minor party."
Miliband rightly labelled this a "pathetic excuse" and yet it is apparently an excuse which Cameron appears determined to keep on making. Faced with such a weak argument, Miliband couldn't help but win today's debate.
"He's running out of excuses, he's running scared of these debates and in the words of his heroine Margaret Thatcher, he's frit," shouted Miliband, rounding up what was one of his most effective recent performances in the House.
Cameron's only response was to repeatedly accuse Miliband of being scared of debating the Green party. This was a point Cameron kept on making despite Miliband repeatedly replying that he was more than willing to debate them if they are invited by the broadcasters. The fact that Cameron kept on making this same point anyway only managed to further highlight the weakness of his position. His final point that "If [Miliband's] got any more questions left he should ask a serious one," knowing full well that Miliband could not ask any more, only underlined that weakness further.
All in all this was one of Cameron's worst ever performances and neatly demonstrated exactly why he is apparently so terrified of taking part in public debates.
If Cameron still has a reputation for being a slick frontman, it is a reputation that is rapidly fading away.
Verdict: Cameron 0 Miliband 3.