Downing Street has stipulated that David Cameron will take part in one televised leader debate, not three as proposed by broadcasters.
In an email to the chair of the debate committee Sue Inglish, the PM’s director of communications Craig Oliver wrote: “This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the prime minister will not be participating in more than one debate.”
Oliver also criticised the “chaos” since the plan for three debates – two seven-way debates and a head-to-head with Ed Miliband – was outlined last month. “Since this proposal has been suggested, there has been chaos. In recent weeks, you have avoided letting the parties sit in a room to hammer out proposals, making progress impossible.”
Cameron has agreed to participate in a single seven-way debate with the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems, Ukip, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Downing Street also specified that the debate should take place before the dissolution of parliament on 23rd March.
Downing Street’s email came hours after Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron to meet him “any time, any place, anywhere” during an interview with Sky News. The chair of Labour’s general election campaign Douglas Alexander has now declared the PM”s final offer “outrageous”.
“We continue to support the broadcasters proposals, including for seven-way debates alongside a two-way debate,” Alexander said in a statement. “But this is an outrageous attempt from the prime minister to bully the broadcasters into dropping their proposals for a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has accused the PM of holding the debates to ransom in a tweet:
.@David_Cameron The British public want the debates so let's get on with it. Stop holding them to ransom by trying to dictate the terms.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) March 4, 2015
The broadcasters have issued a joint statement saying they are still committed to holding the debates. “The broadcasters have set out their proposals and continue to talk to all the relevant parties on an equitable basis. We will respond to the Conservatives’ proposal in due course.”
The debates were due to kick off on April 2nd with a seven-way debate on ITV moderated by news anchor Julie Etchingham.