Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg defended David Cameron’s refusal to take part in all but one televised debate ahead of the general election on May 7, telling Channel 4 News on Friday there are “a lot of left-wing people” among broadcasters.
The prime minister was ridiculed on Wednesday for delivering a "final offer" to the broadcasters in which he agreed to take part in just once debate more than a month ahead of the vote, and with all seven party leaders.
On Friday afternoon, the broadcasters said they would push on with the original plan of three debates, threatening to leave an empty chair for Cameron should he continue to refuse to participate.
Speaking from Bristol on Friday, the Somerset MP rejected the suggestion that the PM’s aim was to avoid participation in the debates. He said: “David Cameron said he would participate in a debate at an earlier stage so that it didn't take over the whole of the election campaign… and the broadcasters arrogantly rejected his offer."
Host Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked how the party leaders were could debate ahead of party manifestos. Rees-Mogg replied: "It's debating the record of this government, what it has achieved, its stunning achievements in welfare reform, in getting the economy right, in education reform - and that's the major part of the debate." He added: “Most of the policies the parties are going to bring forward are already well known."
Rees-Mogg said that unlike in 2010, the three main parties no longer represent 90% of the electorate, instead "the 90 per cent figure is made up by a whole swathe of parties, which is what the prime minister has agreed to do." He said that the proposed head-to-head between Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband would only cover “about 60 per cent of the vote," adding that Britain is no longer a two-party system.
The MP continued: "You have to ask what the broadcasters motive is. There are a lot of left-wing people in the broadcasters, including James Purnell, head of strategy at the BBC, the BBC is well-known for its left-wing views and it seems to want to have sets of debates that support left-wing parties."
In a statement on Friday afternoon, the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 said they intended to press ahead with their previously announced plans for two debates featuring seven party leaders and one head-to-head between Cameron and Miliband.
The statement read: "The broadcasters welcome the fact that the prime minister has for the first time agreed to take part in a televised debate. However, the group believes there needs to be two seven way debates of a minimum of two hours each, within the election campaign, allowing time to properly represent the views of all parties, covering a broad range of subjects. The broadcasters also believe that a head to head debate between the two individuals who could become prime minister - David Cameron and Ed Miliband - is important - something the prime minister has publicly supported."
The broadcasters also made public a letter sent to Downing Street communications director Craig Oliver, in which they reject his demand that any debate or debates take place before the final month of the election campaign.
The letter said: "We believe that the formal election period is the right time to hold election debates. It is the point at which the parties have published their election manifestos and the point at which the electorate as a whole is most engaged with discussion of election issues and the public debate about the future of the country."
It added: "We believe the proposal for just one debate of 90 minutes duration is insufficient to cover the main election issues with seven participants. Our 2 x 2 hour debates format will allow all seven leaders sufficient time to discuss properly a good range of the main election issues. One 90 minute debate with seven leaders would inevitably lead to much less ground being covered, with much shorter contributions from all involved.
"We very much hope that all invited leaders will participate in the broadcast debates. However, in the end all we can do -- as impartial public service broadcasters -- is to provide a fair forum for debates to take place. It will always remain the decision of individual leaders whether or not to take part.
"The debates will go ahead and we anticipate millions of viewers will find them valuable as they did in 2010. Our invitations will remain open to all the invited leaders right up to broadcast. We'll set no deadlines for final responses. We very much hope all the leaders will participate."
Watch the full Channel 4 News segment here: