It's Time Cameron Stopped Running Scared and Accepted Ed Miliband's Challenge for TV Debates

11/12/2012 15:03 GMT | Updated 10/02/2013 10:12 GMT

After the second Leaders' Debate in April 2010, David Cameron said the event had been a ''good thing for democracy" and that the Tories had been ''vindicated'' over their calls for the debates between the party leaders. He also predicted at the time that televised debates would become a regular feature of general election campaigns as a means of connecting with voters. Yet it now seems Cameron is going all camera-shy. Yesterday's statement that he wants to think again about TV debates in the 2015 election campaign looks like an early attempt to wriggle out of them.

It's true that the debates were hard work and caused uncomfortable moments for all three Party leaders - but that's why they matter. Defending your record and putting forward your vision for the future is something all politicians have to do. It's something this Prime Minister seems to resent.

But it's not just in relation to the TV debates where our previously publicity-seeking prime minister has gone all shy. Do you know when David Cameron last held his monthly press conference at Number 10 Downing Street? Astonishingly, it was 8 July 2011, more than 17 months ago. On that occasion, he was questioned extensively about why he had chosen to employ the disgraced Andy Coulson as Director of Government Communications. Maybe that explains why he decided it was better to avoid communicating at all.

Prime Minister's Questions is another opportunity for the Prime Minister to be held to account, both by the Leader of the Opposition and by backbenchers from all sides of the House. But the Government controls the Parliamentary timetable and the reality is that more than half of next year's parliamentary recesses will start ridiculously on a Tuesday - meaning that Mr Cameron doesn't have to face PMQs on the Wednesday.

And Cameron has managed to schedule overseas visits - for example his trip to the USA last Spring and last month's visit to the Middle East - so that they conveniently get in the way of him turning up in the Commons on a Wednesday to answer questions.

But it's not just the Opposition who have the job of holding the Prime Minister to account: journalists do it too. Yet David Cameron, unlike his predecessors, is reluctant to take the the broad spectrum of the British media with him on his official trips. On last month's Middle East tour, Downing Street restricted the number of reporters travelling with the Prime Minister, reportedly because he was "increasingly impatient" about having to give interviews.

On his trip to the USA and Brazil in September, there was plenty of room on the plane for people who have reportedly, quite coincidentally we are told, given large amounts of money to the Tories. It seems the easiest way to put a question to the Prime Minister is to first make a large donation to the Conservative Party. This gives a whole new dimension to "cash for questions".

It's true that David Cameron has a difficult record to defend. His economic failure, with less growth, more borrowing and more debt, and with people on low and middle incomes paying the price while millionaires get a tax cut, is something he doesn't want to talk about. He doesn't like to be reminded that he promised no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, then spent billions on one while cutting over 7,000 nurses. He would prefer to avoid admitting that he's cutting at least 15,000 police officers.

But enough of excuses and prevarication. The truth is David Cameron looks like a tired old former prize fighter, with a glass jaw and desperate to avoid the ring. In stark contrast, Ed Miliband relishes the chance to debate with Cameron in front of a massive public audience. Cameron was right when he said in 2010 that TV debates are good for our democracy. Ed Miliband is challenging Cameron to finally stop pussyfooting around and commit to debating the problems facing our country and the changes we need for the future. It's time Cameron accepted the challenge - and stopped running scared.

Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East and Vice-Chair of the Labour party