POLITICS

Nick Clegg Refuses To Back Green Party To Join Leaders' TV Debates

18/01/2015 13:04 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 13:59 GMT

The Green Party is being used as an "alibi" to scupper the televised general election debates, Nick Clegg said as he declined to back their inclusion.

Green leader Natalie Bennett confronted Clegg directly over the issue, calling on the Deputy Prime Minister to get his "other two amigos" Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband to also write to the broadcasters to ask for the Greens to be included.

But Liberal Democrat leader Clegg insisted it is for the broadcasters to come forward with new proposals due to concerns over the existing plans.

bennett clegg

Nick Clegg clashed with Green leader Natalie Bennett

Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear he will not participate in the debates unless the Green Party is included alongside Ukip.

Speaking on BBC One's the Andrew Marr Show, Clegg reiterated he believes the debates will take place.

He claimed the Tories are "swithering around a lot", adding: "I think it's inevitable in a hugely fragmented political environment - fragmented in a way I can't remember in my political lifetime - that two big vested interests, the red team and the blue team, in this case using the Greens as an alibi on the debates, will try and squeeze other voices out.

"They want to put the genie back in the bottle. They want to run things as they've done before. I think it's too late."

Bennett then told Clegg: "I think we've spent most of the last week debating about the debates instead of talking about issues and I don't think the public is enjoying that or wants that to be happening.

"So Clegg, will you perhaps get together with your other two amigos, Farage and Miliband, and write to the broadcasters and say include the Greens as the public wants and then we can get on to debating the issues instead of debating debates?"

Clegg replied: "The broadcasters need to come forward with other proposals because clearly the current one, which I am not wildly happy about because it excludes me as a leader of a governing party, so they need to come forward with proposals. I'll get my soapbox out any day of the week."

Bennett pressed Clegg: "Will you say 'invite the Greens?'"

Clegg said it is not for him, Cameron or Bennett to tell the broadcasters what to do. Bennett replied that the polls and public indicate the Greens should be included.

Told that he could advise the broadcasters what to do, Clegg said Cameron had made an "error" by trying to dictate to them what to do.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who is chairman of the party's 2015 election campaign, said he would debate with anybody - although he insisted politicians should not make the decision over who takes part in the televised events.

Lord Ashdown told Murnaghan on Sky News: "If it's the case the Greens want in, it's perfectly clear what they should do - not hide behind the Prime Minister but go to court and there's legislation, they can challenge it. They can do that."

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he was a "political junky", adding to Murnaghan on Sky News: "The more we get David Cameron on television, the happier I am. But we've been very clear, it needs to be a fair debate and we need to include the Greens.

"The Greens are a big party now, they've got membership bigger I think than Ukip, they've got a good representation in the House of Commons, they should be part of the deal."

Told that Tories may fear giving Labour leader Miliband airtime as it could show people he talks a lot of sense, Pickles replied: "I'm a regular attender at Prime Minister's Question Time and I've never noticed that tendency yet."