Broadcasters will defy the prime minister and push ahead with three televised debates, even if David Cameron doesn’t attend.
The Conservative leader has said he will appear once to face at least six other leaders, but not a second with the same format or a third against the opposition leader, Ed Miliband.
This week Cameron laid out his bottom line, thereby ruling out a televised showdown with the Labour leader. ITV, BBC, Channel four and Sky News were all pencilled in for debates, which they say are in the public interest after 22m tuned in to watch verbal combats between Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg back in 2010.
Cameron, however, said he will participate in just one, against the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, the SNP, the Green Party, and Plaid Cymru. The debate, he said, would have to take place before the end of March.
The Prime Minister has faced criticism saying he is ducking the debates and should stand and defend his record. There have even been suggestions he might be empty-chaired, a prospect which might hurt his ratings.
The debates may capture the public interest, but it is widely believed that, even in the United States where they are a staple of the election run in, such verbal stand-offs do little if anything to affect voter intent.
Here is the proposed schedule for the debates:
- 2 April (ITV) – seven leaders
- 16 April (BBC) – seven leaders
- 30 April (Channel 4, Sky News) Miliband v Cameron