POLITICS
17/03/2015 16:32 GMT | Updated 17/03/2015 18:59 GMT

David Cameron Agrees To Single 7-Way TV Election Debate On April 2

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
File photo dated 22/04/10 of Conservative leader David Cameron (left) speaking as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg (centre) and Labour leader Gordon Brown look on during a live leaders' election debate, as the chances of televised political debates taking place during the general election campaign appear no more certain after proposals for a revised format sparked fresh complaints from excluded parties.

David Cameron has agreed to take part in a single televised debate during the general election campaign, claiming it was in fact the other party leaders who were 'running away' from the broadcasts.

The Prime Minister said that the new proposal for a single debate between seven leaders, to be screened by ITV on April 2, had been put forward by the broadcasters in place of their previous plan for three TV debates, including a head-to-head clash between him and Ed Miliband.

Conservative sources said the package of programmes agreed by the PM includes an interview by Jeremy Paxman featuring questions from a studio audience, with Mr Miliband attending a similar event.

But there was no immediate confirmation from the broadcasters of the changed format, and other parties appeared to be caught off guard by Mr Cameron's statement.

Confirming he has accepted an offer to take part in a televised leaders debate, Cameron said: "The other parties have now got to stop running away from this and agree to the debate that the broadcasters have now offered."

But a senior Labour source dismissed the allegation as "preposterous" and said the party had not received any information about plans for a single seven-way debate. Labour understood that the existing proposal for three debates, which it has accepted, remains on the table.

Labour had previously accused Cameron of "running scared" of the TV debates after he insisted that first the Greens and then the Democratic Unionist Party should be included, and said that he was only willing to take part in a broadcast staged before the formal start of the campaign on March 30.

Speaking at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: "There was a formal offer of a set of television programmes including a televised debate, put together by the broadcasters led by the BBC.

"As Prime Minister, I accepted that deal in full."

He added: "This was an offer put together by the broadcasters, accepted by me on Saturday. The other parties have now got to stop running away from this and agree to the debate that the broadcasters have now suggested."

Conservative sources said the package of programmes agreed by the PM includes an interview by Jeremy Paxman featuring questions from a studio audience, with Mr Miliband attending a similar event.

Then, on April 2, there would be a seven-way televised debate, including Mr Cameron and other party leaders.

A further "challengers debate" would feature the leaders of the smaller parties.

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On April 30, a week before polling day, Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Nick Clegg would take part in a rotating question time event, following one another into a television studio but not going head-to-head.

A Ukip spokesman said: "We agreed to the three debates the broadcasters proposed and will be turning up to the two we were invited to."

The broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 - had previously proposed three debates, with the first two on April 2 and 16 featuring Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Liberal Democrat leader Mr Clegg, Ukip's Nigel Farage, Green leader Natalie Bennett, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood, followed by the head-to-head encounter on April 30 between the two men vying to be prime minister.

They had threatened to "empty chair" the Prime Minister in any debate he failed to attend, and any decision to cut back the package of three broadcasts will be viewed by many in Westminster as a significant climbdown. Mr Miliband said he would debate Mr Cameron "any time, any place, anywhere".

It is understood that a small group of TV executives have been in talks with the Conservatives since Mr Cameron made clear he would not back down on his "final offer" of a single debate to take place before the election campaign begins on March 30, but it remains unclear whether other parties were involved.

Mr Cameron said: "The broadcasters, led by the BBC, have come forward with a new offer of television programmes for the general election, including a televised debate and I accepted that deal on Saturday.

"It's now for other parties to make clear what they are going to do in respect of this deal that's been put forward and that I've accepted."

Asked if he was getting out of a head-to-head debate with Mr Miliband he said: "What I'm getting into is a set of television programmes and a televised debate."

He added that the deal "will make sure a televised debate goes ahead, which is what I want, what the country wants".

"An offer's been made, a deal has been accepted now the other parties must make clear that they accept this deal too, otherwise they will have to bear the responsibility," he said.

"I'm helping to make this debate go ahead."

The Prime Minister insisted it was a formal offer - an assertion denied by Labour - for a set of programmes.

A Labour spokesman said: "Based on the broadcasters' proposals, we have accepted and plan to attend all three debates on April 2, 16 and 30.

"If the Tories have confirmed they are to attend to one of these debates, then that is progress. It is one down, two to go. But no one should be fooled: David Cameron is still running scared of a head-to-head televised debate with Ed Miliband."

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "It's good news that we are finally making progress towards a sensible solution on the TV debates.

"The latest proposals from the broadcasters are welcomed by the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg will take part in the events that he's been invited to."

Ms Sturgeon said: "While it is welcome that David Cameron has accepted his position was indefensible and agreed to debate during the campaign period - abandoning his arrogant 'final offer' - he should sign up to the full programme of debates that is on the table.

"I will debate David Cameron any time, anywhere, and on any number of occasions - but a Tory Prime Minister simply cannot be allowed to dictate terms to everyone else."