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Jeremy Corbyn challenges PM to annual TV debate

Published 29/12/2015

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Prime Minister David Cameron at the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Prime Minister David Cameron at the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall

David Cameron has been challenged by Jeremy Corbyn to take part in an annual "state of the nation" televised debate with other political leaders.

The Labour leader said making general election-style set pieces a yearly fixture would help the public "engage more in politics" and urged his rival not to "shrink" from a public contest.

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and the Liberal Democrats' Tim Farron would sign up if the Prime Minister accepted the challenge, the Independent was told.

But a senior Conservative source dismissed it as a "desperate attempt by Labour to distract voters from the deep divisions that have left the party in turmoil".

TV debates were first held at the 2010 election, when Mr Cameron took on then prime minister Gordon Brown and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in three debates, which helped propel Mr Clegg into public prominence.

Mr Cameron's reservations resulted in tortured negotiations ahead of the 2015 election, which produced a head-to-head debate with Labour leader Ed Miliband, a seven-way clash also including the Lib Dems, Green Party, Ukip, SNP and Plaid Cymru and one between opposition leaders.

It is thought any annual debate would have to adopt the wider format including all major parties.

The call for a debate came after research by Leeds University found the debates increased viewers' interest in politics by 30%.

"I am challenging the Prime Minister to an annual televised 'state of the nation' debate of the party leaders," Mr Corbyn told the newspaper.

"People are entitled to know more about their political leaders and to have their government held to account by the elected opposition in every way possible.

"It is crucial that the Prime Minister and government are held to account, both inside and outside Parliament, throughout their period in office - not just at election time."

Mr Corbyn, who has made greater public engagement a theme of his leadership, said: "Democracy relies on the participation of the people. No political leader should shrink from the chance to engage more fully with the public and to test their arguments in debate.

"It is clear that televised debates can engage more people in politics, so we should seize the opportunity to hold them more regularly."

Mr Farron said the Tory leader had been "two-faced about this issue for years.

"He should, for once in his life, match his words with deeds. I will lay out why the Liberal Democrats are the only real alternative to the Conservatives - both socially just and fiscally responsible," he said.

A spokeswoman for the SNP said: "The televised debates earlier this year brought the election campaign alive and were far, far better for having a full range of participants - unlike in 2010 - which properly reflected the diverse range of political choices."

Ms Sturgeon's performances in the election debates were very popular with voters.

A No 10 source said: "We haven't been approached about this proposal and would need to see more details. But the PM is happy to be held to account every week at Prime Minister's Questions by MPs."

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