Former Party chairman claims David Cameron tried to avoid leadership debates

David Cameron was 'freaked out' by his poor performance in the 2010 general election leadership debates and took advantage of 'disarray' among broadcasters to try and avoid doing them again, it has been claimed.

David Cameron giving a speech at the Scottish Conservative Conference. Pixture; Lisa Ferguson

Former Tory party chairman Grant Shapps said the lack of a coherent schedule among the broadcasters allowed Mr Cameron to try and “dodge the bullet” of televised leadership debates in the run-up to last year’s general election.

The debates dominated much of the build-up to the election amid fierce rows over who should and should not be able to take part.

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Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that Downing Street “played those arguments endlessly, actually, to the advantages of politicians basically dodging having to do the debates”.

He said the 2010 debates “didn’t really go to plan” for Mr Cameron, adding: “That put him off doing them again. I thought it was the wrong decision but it was the one that was made.

“When it came to 2015 there was a great deal of hesitation in Number 10, some of the advisers very much against him doing it.

“What was happening behind the scenes was, basically, Number 10 was taking advantage of a large amount of disarray amongst the British broadcasters.

“They didn’t come up with a single plan and because of that Number 10 was able to dodge the bullet.

“I don’t think that’s good for democracy. I think it would be much better to have those debates and broadcasters need to make sure that happens this time.”

Mr Shapps said indecision among the broadcasters meant they did not get together early enough to “propose formats that then couldn’t be wriggled out of”.

He added: “In other words, they left the political parties and politicians too much space, too much wriggle room.

“If we’re going to do them, the broadcasters shouldn’t wait till 2019 or 2020 to put the format in place.

“They should get together now, agree the format they would like and present that to the political parties.”

The discussion came on the back of the opening televised debate between US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, watched by an estimated television audience of up to 100 million people.

Four televised leadership debates were held before last year’s general election, three of which featured Mr Cameron.