Petition for live Election 2017 TV debates to go ahead with or without Theresa May reaches over 86,000 signatures

Campaign urges broadcasters to host TV debates and 'empty chair' the prime minister if she refuses to appear in a head-to-head political broadcast

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A campaign aiming to ensure TV leaders’ debates go ahead is gaining momentum, with over 86,000 people signing a petition urging broadcasters to hold live 2017 General Election debates – with or without Prime Minister Theresa May.

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ITV has announced that they are planning a live debate ahead of the snap election on 8 June, despite the fact that Conservative leader May has said she would not be taking part in any televised debates.

At the time of writing, 86,952 people have lent their support to a Change.org petition calling on May to take part in a TV leaders’ debate, or for broadcasters to ’empty chair’ her if she refuses.

“We demand a televised debate between Theresa May and the leaders of the UK’s main opposition parties,” the petition, started by politics teacher Michael Walker, states. “If Theresa May refuses, the BBC, Channel 4 or ITV should host a debate with an empty chair for the Prime Minister.”

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UK party leaders first took part in televised debates back in 2010 when Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashed during three live broadcasts ahead of the general election. 

A number of senior politicians – including Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon – lined up once again in the run up to the 2015 election, while many more took part in EU Referendum debates organised by a series of media outlets last year.

ITV published an official statement on Wednesday saying that the broadcaster intended to host a debate this year, saying, “ITV will hold a leaders’ debate as we did in 2010 and 2015. We will announce more details in due course.”

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According to the Guardian, Jonathan Munro, the head of news gathering at the BBC, said, “The BBC is working hard to make sure that there are leaders’ debates on the TV in the run-up to the general election because they are overwhelmingly in the public interest.”