Brown agrees to TV debates with rivals

PRIME Minister Gordon Brown will go head-to-head with opposition leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg in a groundbreaking series of US-style televised debates.

The party leaders yesterday agreed to three live discussions before the 2010 general election that will hand each of them an unprecedented set of pitfalls and opportunities.

After wrangling between Labour, the Conservatives and the three major TV broadcasters, the government announced the first primetime debate will be on ITV and anchored by Alastair Stewart. The second encounter will be on Sky, hosted by Adam Boulton, while David Dimbleby will chair the third for the BBC.

The move was greeted as historic by commentators. While US elections have often hinged on the performance of candidates during televised clashes, UK elections have tended to be fought through newspaper interviews and party political broadcasts. Labour challenger Tony Blair rejected a debate with John Major in 1996 for fear of making a gaffe and losing his hefty opinion poll lead.

Brown said he “relished” the prospect of live discussions. He said: “[We need to debate] choices like whether we lock in the recovery or whether we choke it off.”

Cameron said the talks would “enliven our democracy”, adding: “I think they will help answer people’s questions. I think they will crystallise the debate about the change this country needs.”

Clegg added: “After a terrible year for politicians because of the expenses scandals, these debates will be an opportunity to start re-engaging people with politics.”

Not all politicians were happy, however. Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond described the SNP’s absence as “entirely unacceptable”, while Plaid Cymru said its exclusion was “completely undemocratic”.