UK Politics

PM 'dragging his feet' on election debates, says Miliband

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown at the end of the third leaders' debate in 2010
Image caption There were three debates in consecutive weeks in 2010

Ed Miliband has accused the prime minister of "dragging his feet" over agreeing to general election debates next year between the party leaders.

The Labour leader said David Cameron was the "single biggest obstacle" to a re-run of the debates held in 2010.

He said he would consider changes to the rules used in the 2010 campaign to encourage more audience participation.

Mr Cameron has yet to commit to the idea, having warned that the debates overshadowed the previous election.

The 2010 prime ministerial debates, between David Cameron, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, were the first to be held in UK political history.

The three debates were staged in consecutive weeks during the five-week election campaign, broadcast by Sky News, ITV and the BBC respectively.

Despite their perceived success, Mr Cameron has said the media's focus on the debates "took all the life" out of the rest of the campaign. This has led to speculation he wants to see fewer debates this time, possibly before the formal campaign begins.

'Less formal'

Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg have urged Mr Cameron to "sign on the dotted line" to stage a repeat next year, with the 2010 format as a "starting point" for negotiations.

The Labour leader told Radio Times that discussions between the parties and the broadcasters about the 2015 debates should begin now and not be left until later in the year.

Writing in the weekly magazine, Mr Miliband said he saw the debates as a "crucial part" of his pitch to the electorate and would help people to make "better-informed choices" come polling day.

"It is a pity that the Conservatives will not even sit down to begin negotiations until later this year - when it will be harder to secure an agreement - and have stalled at every opportunity they have been given to do so".

Mr Miliband said the previous format could be improved to give "more opportunities for the audience to ask questions and the setting to be less formal".

"That would help ensure the real priorities of people are reflected rather than just the point-scoring we sometimes see in Westminster."


But he said he was not prepared "to give the Conservatives the excuse to walk off the pitch by claiming we have moved the goalposts" over the format.

"The starting point for negotiations should be the agreement Mr Cameron signed up to four years ago - three debates between the three main party leaders over the three weeks of the campaign," he added.

Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Clegg said the debates were a "useful innovation" and the Lib Dems' coalition partners should not "run away" from taking part next year.

"Ed Miliband and I said we will sign up on the dotted line and repeat the format of last time."

There have been growing calls for the UKIP leader Nigel Farage to be included in the debates after his performance in two head-to-head debates with Mr Clegg on Europe last month.

The broadcasters have said they will have the final say on who takes part in any general election debates.

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