Broadcasters have rejected David Cameron’s call for proposed televised debates between the leaders of the UK’s main political parties to be moved forward so they take place before the official start of the general election campaign.
The four main broadcasters have put forward proposals for three live TV debates to be held on April 2, 16 and 30 - with the first clash coming just days after Parliament dissolves on March 30 and the final broadcast a week ahead of the May 7 poll.
But Mr Cameron is calling for the televised showdowns to be staged earlier, warning that the debates “sucked the life out” of the campaign when they were first held in 2010.
In a statement, the BBC and ITV rejected his proposal and reiterated their position that the network debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate.
The broadcasters said: “We are proposing that the debates should happen within the campaign period at a time when the parties will be setting out policies in their manifestos and when the audience is fully engaged with the election. The 2015 campaign will be nearly six weeks long and there is plenty of time for three debates to be held without overshadowing the rest of the campaign.
“The proposed dates for the network debates are 2, 16 and 30 April. The order of the debates is to be discussed with the parties. In the event that any of the invited party leaders decline to participate, debates will take place with the party leaders who accept the invitation.”
The BBC and ITV are planning to stage a debate with seven party leaders - Mr Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, the Greens’ Natalie Bennett, the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. Sky News and Channel 4 plan to host a head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, as the two leaders most likely to be Prime Minister following the election.