January 15: Is PM trying to duck debate?

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RUNNING scared or taking a stand? The proposed television debates between the party leaders ahead of the general election have themselves sparked debate about David Cameron’s motives for insisting that his involvement depends on an invitation being extended to the Green Party.

While Mr Cameron poured scorn on this “debate about a debate” at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the image of strong leadership he has painstakingly built up is now in danger of being unravelled by accusations that, as Margaret Thatcher once said of Denis Healey, the Prime Minister is “frit”.

For while there is an argument that the Greens should be included in the debates given that they have more MEPs than the Liberal Democrats and have been in Parliament longer than Ukip, the view that Mr Cameron is making a valiant stand for environmental issues is somewhat undermined by his much publicised insistence that Tory spin doctors “get rid of all the green crap” which saw him hugging huskies in Norway.

Ironically, given the mass outbreak of clucking and flapping of imaginary wings from the Labour front bench, a showdown with Ed Miliband holds no fear for the Prime Minister given the growth in the economy and Labour’s past record. Instead it is the potential for Nigel Farage to charm undecided voters – and wavering Tory supporters – that poses the greater threat.

It doesn’t help that Ofcom has decided Ukip should be considered a main party, meaning it will benefit from far more exposure than Mr Farage may have dared hope and can expect to be featured in every cough and spittle of television coverage leading up to the election.

It is now a case of who blinks first. But Mr Cameron must also weigh up whether it would be more harmful to Tory hopes of securing of an outright majority in May to dodge the TV debates or to allow Ukip the platform they crave.

Learning lessons

Must start with man at the top

MARK Carne, the embattled chief executive of Network Rail, has “unreservedly apologised” to passengers for the farce which unfolded after Christmas when engineering works overran at King’s Cross Station, causing mayhem for passengers attempting to travel to Yorkshire.

He told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the overrun should have been declared earlier and communication about the use of platforms at Finsbury Park, where passengers were diverted causing chaotic scenes as thousands of people tried to crowd on to platforms, could have been better.

Is Mr Carne really paid £675,000 a year, excluding lucrative bonuses, to state the obvious?

In keeping with the accepted script for such appearances by extravagantly remunerated executives, Mr Carne made sure to trot out the well-worn, yet increasingly hollow, phrase that there were “a lot of lessons to be learnt” from the chaos that paralysed links in and out of the capital.

Mr Carne would do well to recognise that many of those “lessons” apply to him. Firstly, when the organisation he heads has failed thousands of its customers, it would be advisable for him to cut short his holiday at his second home in Cornwall.

Secondly, such positions carry with them responsibilities that the public does not like to see someone paid so handsomely attempt to shirk – as Mr Carne did when he initially sought to cling on to his £135,000 performance-related bonus.

A cure for cancer

But can society afford the bill?

FOR decades a cure for cancer has been the Holy Grail of medicine – but now researchers claim that, by 2050, deaths from the disease will be eliminated for all except the over 80s.

It is a bold ambition but the figures bear it out. A decline in the number of smokers, speedier diagnosis, better medication and improvements in screening and surgical procedures have caused cancer death rates to fall by one per cent every year since 1990.

Scientists predict this trend will gather pace – as long as such advances are accompanied by increased investment in cancer care.

Coming a day after the Government announced that it is planning to withdraw NHS funding for 25 cancer treatments, denying more than 3,000 patients a year with bowel cancer and 1,700 patients with breast cancer access to vital life-prolonging medications, that is a big assumption.

Could it be possible that, having finally found a way to eradicate this cruel disease, we will simply be told we cannot afford it?