The ITV Leaders Debate: everything you need to know

Which party leaders are appearing? Will there be advert breaks? Everything you need to know about the seven-way face-off

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What time is the ITV Leaders’ Debate on TV?

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The ITV Leaders’ Debate will be airing on ITV (obviously) at 8pm, on Thursday 18th May. 

What party leaders are going to be in it?

The invitation to debate was extended to all the seven main party leaders, but Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May turned this down, and so did Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. ITV have said they won’t ’empty chair’ either politician, and recent photos from the studio show only five podiums.

But there’s always a chance the PM will turn up…

The following party heads are scheduled to appear: 

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

UKIP leader Paul Nuttal

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party 

Who is hosting? 

ITV News anchor Julie Etchingham (see main image) will be moderating the debate. She previously hosted the 2015 The ITV Leaders’ Debate and 2016’s The ITV Referendum Debate and Cameron and Farage Live: The EU Referendum.

Can viewers ask questions?

Yes, it’s not just down to the studio audiences. Members of the public who want answers from the UK’s top politicians are being given a chance to get them, as ITV invites viewers to submit questions for party leaders ahead of its live televised debate on Thursday.

Questions for the remaining leaders can be submitted to ITV via election@itv.com. An editorial panel will then select those that will go through to the debate on the night. The questions will not be seen by the party leaders in advance.

Will there be any advert breaks?

Just one. There will be one break for leaders during the live broadcast, and ITV will go to a commercial break to facilitate this.

Are TV debates a standard part of the election campaign?

No. In the UK they are a relatively new innovation – so new that broadcasters haven’t really settled on conventions or a standard format. 

The first leaders’ debates were in 2010 when Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg took part in three 90-minute sessions. The first was on ITV with Alastair Stewart, the second was on Sky with Adam Boulton, and the third was on the BBC with David Dimbleby.

The Lib Dem leader threw a bit of a curveball and came out on top, sparking an unexpected trend of “Clegg-mania”. “I agree with Nick” became a running joke as other leaders found unexpected common ground with Clegg and his policies. 

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Were there debates for the 2015 General Election?

By the 2015 General Election, the main parties were much more wary. There were protracted arguments about which parties should be represented, ending in a seven-way debate where David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg were also joined by UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.

There was also a spin-off debate between the “challengers” (everyone but the Lib Dems and Conservatives), another between Cameron and Miliband, and one with the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory leaders where they just answered questions instead of debating. 

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How about the EU referendum debates?

There were televised debates for the EU referendum, with the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns getting their chance to do battle. Channel 4 held a debate hosted by Jeremy Paxman on the eve of the referendum, and there was also a live BBC debate from Wembley Arena. These involved not just party leaders but key figures in the campaigns, including Sadiq Khan, Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Ruth Davidson.

On ITV, Conservative Prime Minister Cameron and UKIP leader Nigel Farage each submitted to question and answer sessions, and on Sky, Cameron and Michael Gove had their own grillings.

Cameron avoided a head-to-head – so May’s refusal is not unprecedented. 

Do TV debates change voters’ minds?

The jury is still out. They can certainly attract high ratings: a peak of 10.3 million watched the first debate in 2010, though only 4 million watched the second. In 2015 a peak of 7.4 million watched the seven-way debate. It’s no Strictly Come Dancing, but those are still impressively high figures. 

The Reuters Institute found “strong evidence” that the 2010 election debates “increased the interest and involvement of voters”, especially among first time voters – in fact, 92% of young people reported talking about the debates afterwards. And following the 2015 elections, a Panelbase survey found that 38% were “influenced” by the debates. 

Televised debates can offer voters the chance to hear what each party represents and how well they can defend their ideas. It is a chance to connect with viewers and lay out the options. But going head-to-head is also a risk for party leaders, and it is one May might not be willing to take… 

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The General Election will take place on 8th June 2017