Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

PM 'running scared of TV debates'

Broadcasters should "empty-chair" David Cameron if he refuses to take part in televised leaders' debates ahead of the May 7 general election, Ed Miliband has said.

Labour and Ukip have accused the Prime Minister of "running scared" of televised debates after he ruled out taking part if Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is left out. Mr Cameron has insisted that the format being suggested by broadcasters is not fair because it includes Ukip leader Nigel Farage but excludes the Greens.

Former Conservative chairman Lord Tebbit has warned v oters will think Mr Cameron is "frit" if he dodges the live TV debates with his election rivals.

And Mr Miliband said that the broadcasts should go ahead whether or not the Conservative leader is there.

The Labour leader told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I think it is pretty disreputable that David Cameron went into the 2010 election saying that these debates were the most important thing that we could possibly have and people shouldn't make feeble excuses to get out of them, and he is doing precisely that.

"He is running scared of these debates. I want these debates to happen, I think they should happen with David Cameron or without David Cameron.

"In the end that's a matter for the broadcasters, but I don't think any one political leader should be able to stop these debates happen, should be able to veto these debates, block these debates.

"If an empty chair represents David Cameron in these debates, so be it. I think these debates need to happen. They are owned by the British people, not owned by David Cameron or anybody else. I think, frankly, the Prime Minister should stop ducking and weaving, trying to avoid these debates."

Under plans put forward by the major broadcasters in October, the Prime Minister would take on Mr Miliband alone in one debate, with another featuring the three mainstream party leaders and a third also including Mr Farage.

Lord Tebbit's comment that Mr Cameron risks looking "frit" is all the more biting because it is a clear reference to Margaret Thatcher's 1983 taunt to then Labour deputy leader Denis Healey that he was scared of a general election.

The Tory peer told The Observer: "I don't think it is going to improve his image. I think the public will take the view that he is frit.

"And anyway, the public enjoy these confrontations. It is obviously going to be the most awful election campaign that anyone can remember, so to rob it even of this little bit of show, I think, would not be particularly pleasing to the public.

"It would certainly provide the opportunity for the other parties to say, 'What is wrong with him? Why doesn't he want to do it?' And for the more sophisticated audience, they will whisper quietly that the reason is that he bungled it in 2010."

Mr Cameron took on Nick Clegg and Labour prime minister Gordon Brown in the UK's first ever general election leaders' debates in 2010, which the Liberal Democrat leader was widely regarded to have won. Some Conservatives have blamed the debates for denying the party an overall majority.

Mr Miliband and Mr Farage have also mocked the Prime Minister after it emerged he would not take part in an online question and answer session with young voters - something that the Labour and Ukip leaders, the Deputy Prime Minister and Ms Bennett have all done.

Conservative backbencher David Davis, who challenged Mr Cameron for the leadership in 2005, said that attempting to avoid TV debates "may be right tactically" but was not realistic.

Mr Davis told BBC1's Sunday Politics: "It's unavoidable. They've got to have the debate. It will happen, in an internet age. The broadcasters are controlled, the newspapers aren't.

"We've seen the Telegraph proposing a debate. It will happen. The broadcasters will then be able to cover that, just as they did with Farage versus Clegg which was on LBC and then it was on the national news that evening. That's what will happen. It will get covered."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph