Published on 5 Mar 2015 Sections

TV debates: Miliband accuses PM of ‘cowering’ from public

Ed Miliband calls on David Cameron to have a face-to-face debate with him, after the prime minister issued an ultimatum that he would only do one televised debate with at least seven party leaders.

The prime minister ruled out turning up for a head-to-head with Ed Miliband and will only sign up for one 90-minute contest involving at least seven party leaders to be held before March 30.

Downing Street told broadcasters to scale back their plans for a series of three debates involving Mr Cameron and blamed organisers for their “chaotic” negotiations.

Read Gary Gibbon's blog: TV debates - the end game

Mr Cameron’s latest terms for taking part have been set out in a letter to Sue Inglish, the chair of the broadcasters’ leaders’ debates committee, by his director of communications Craig Oliver.

‘Running scared’

However, the Labour leader accused Mr Cameron of “running scared”, as Nick Clegg offered to replace the prime minister for the pre-election showdown. Ed Miliband said that Mr Cameron was “cowering from the public”, while the Liberal Democrat leader accused the Tories of “lofty pomposity” during his weekly LBC radio phone-in.

It is now clear that David Cameron is ducking the debate with me. He is cowering from the public. Ed Miliband

The head of Labour’s general election strategy Douglas Alexander claimed the PM’s latest proposal to broadcasters was an attempt to “bully” them.

He said: “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.”

‘Logjam’

Mr Cameron insisted, however, that he is “unblocking the logjam” on debates. Mr Cameron said: “I want us to have a debate and so what I have done is unblock the logjam that I think I’m afraid the broadcasters helped to create, and said right let’s get on, let’s have the debate that I think matter the most.

What I have done is unblock the logjam that I think I’m afraid the broadcasters helped to create. David Cameron

“I haven’t put hurdles in the way, the broadcasters came up with a series of proposals that other people as well realised were flawed, not having the Greens and then deciding to have other parties without consulting anyone. But what I have done is put up front and centre the need to hold a debate, so I am unblocking the logjam.”

‘Final offer’

Downing Street called the situation “chaotic” in a statement. A spokesman said: “In order to cut through this chaotic situation I am willing to make the following proposal: There should be one 90-minute debate between seven party leaders before the short campaign.

“As well as the prime minister, the leaders of the Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SNP and Ukip should invited.

“If the broadcasters cannot agree amongst themselves who hosts the debate, lots should be drawn, though the debate should be freely available to whoever wants to broadcast it.

“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.”

‘Held to ransom’

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said that Mr Cameron should “get on with it” and agreed to partaking in the debate. Writing on Twitter, Mr Clegg urged the prime minister to stop holding the debates “to ransom”.

In separate statement, a spokesperson for the party said: “The Tories clearly do not want to discuss and debate the merits of their manifesto with the British public – it’s why they don’t want them to happen during the campaign – but the Liberal Democrats do.”