Of the many unsatisfactory aspects of this general election campaign, Wednesday night’s televised party leaders debate was probably the most frustrating, because of the refusal of Theresa May to take part.
The Prime Minister was notable by her absence, although this was not a huge surprise. In almost every situation, she has chosen – or been told to – avoid any prospect of exposing herself to circumstances where she could be held to account by another politician or, perish the thought, a voter.
This reflects badly on Mrs May, because the snap election was all her decision, as we were told soon after the announcement. But having sparked six weeks of fevered campaigning and debating, she has barely contributed to the process she initiated. We are little clearer over what she stands for than we were six weeks ago.
This is fundamentally unfair on the electorate. Having effectively broken the rules over fixed term parliaments so that she could strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, she had an obligation and a responsibility to be open to scrutiny.
Whether politicians like it or not, televised debates are now part of every election campaign, and while they may favour personality over policy, they also help to take the important issues into every house in the country. Only a very small percentage of the electorate will have read all the party manifestos, and the number of people who could identify three main policies from each party without having watched TV is probably not much bigger.
Mrs May’s feeble excuse for avoiding last night’s debate was that she was taking questions from voters around the country instead. On her rounds, it’s hard to imagine she has engaged with anything more than a handful of voters compared to the number who can be reached in a TV debate.
And possibly the biggest indictment of her refusal to take part is the fact that she someone managed to find time to appear on The One Show with her husband three weeks ago, to address such weighty matters as which one of them puts the bins out (not Theresa, in case you missed it).
The Prime Minister has let us down during this campaign, and the polls suggest her ‘strong and stable’ strategy has not been successful. The Conservatives are still on course to win the vote, but Mrs May has yet to win over the country.