A serious of election television debates between party leaders is looking increasingly unlikely, as the impasse between political parties and broadcasters deepens.
On Wednesday, David Cameron made it clear that he didn’t want a one-on-one debate with Ed Miliband, just a week before the election.
Later that evening, Downing Street head of communications Craig Oliver published a letter in which he said that the Prime Minister would only take part in a single debate, and that it would happen prior to the official election campaign beginning on 30 March.
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s chair of General Election strategy fumed: “This is an outrageous attempt from the Prime Minister to bully the broadcasters.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has now offered to take Cameron’s place debating Miliband, and defending the government’s record.
A senior Lib Dem source told City A.M.: “I don’t think anyone wants to see an hour and a half of Ed Miliband looking down the camera, and we’ve provided a solution to the broadcasters in their current dilemma.”
The row over recent days further highlights that television debates are becoming increasingly unlikely.
A well placed source, who helped one of the debate participants prepare in 2010, says at the time it was Sky’s veteran political editor Adam Boulton who had forced all the political parties to sign up, by collaring Clegg and Cameron.
The source agreed that the debates had “energised the election” in 2010, and a similar figure was required this time around, naming LBC’s Nick Ferrari as a potential candidate to rally the debates.
In January when publishing revised plans for the 2015 debate, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky all said they would “empty chair” any party leaders who refuse to take part.
The statement was seen as a direct warning to Cameron after the Prime Minister objected to the first set of proposals outlined last year.
The broadcasters’ latest proposals involve three debates, one on ITV featuring the party leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru on 2 April. Followed by a BBC debate of the same group on 16 April.
Then finally the idea is a Sky and Channel 4-produced head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband on 30 April.
In a joint statement from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky this week, the broadcasters acknowledged Cameron’s letter and said they would respond to it shortly.
“The broadcasters have set out their proposals and continue to talk to all the relevant parties on an equitable basis,” the broadcasters wrote.
Charlotte Henry, Oliver Smith