ITV wins right to show first seven-way televised General Election debate

The three contests will kick off on April 2nd with a debate between David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage as well as the leaders of the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru

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ITV has won the right to screen the first party political leaders’ debate of the 2015 General Election.

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Newscaster Julie Etchingham will moderate the first set-to between the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru on April 2nd. The broadcasters drew lots to decide the timetable.

The ITV debate will be followed on April 16th by a contest between the same leaders broadcast on BBC1 and hosted by David Dimbleby.

The final instalment will be a head-to-head between Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, simulcast on Sky 1 and Channel 4 on April 30th. The two-way contest will be moderated by former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman with Sky’s Kay Burley introducing the programme and presenting the post-debate analysis.

The final timetable has followed weeks of protracted negotiations between the main political leaders and the broadcasters. After Ofcom ruled that as a major party Ukip should be represented in the televised debates, Cameron called for the Green Party to be included. The schedule is still subject to a final agreement and it is still possible that some party leaders will refuse to take part.

“We are continuing to work with all the parties on this,” said a Channel 4 spokeswoman.

The proposal to hold two seven-way debates followed by a Miliband and Cameron head-to-head has always been the most likely outcome. Areas of dispute have included a Ukip proposal to introduce a red button element allowing viewers to opt out of watching speeches by minor party leaders. 

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The negotiations included what had been described as a “fractious” meeting between 16 representatives from the major broadcasters and political parties at Channel 4’s west London headquarters last month. Attendees included Craig Oliver, the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Jonny Oates, Nick Clegg’s chief of staff, and Sue Inglish, the BBC’s head of political programmes.