Nigel Farage has been invited to one of three proposed leaders' debates. Photo: Getty.
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Broadcasters invite Farage to one of three debates

Will Cameron use the Lib Dems' opposition to scupper the broadcasters' debate proposals?

For more on the debates and the run-up to the general election, follow our new site: May2015.com.  

The four major broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have grouped together and offered the political parties three debates.

They have offered a 2/3/4 format. One debate, to be co-produced by Sky and Channel 4 and hosted by Jeremy Paxman, would feature just David Cameron and Ed Miliband. It would be the debate for “who could become prime minister”.

A second would include Nick Clegg, in a repeat of the format from 2010, when the leaders of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems met in three debates. This would be broadcast on the BBC and hosted by David Dimbleby, in his 51st and final year of election coverage.

The final, and likely most enthralling, debate would include Nigel Farage. It would be chaired by ITV’s Julie Etchingham.

The offer follows a joint proposal in May by the Guardian, Telegraph and YouTube for an online debate that could be carried on any media outlet.

The Lib Dems took 28 minutes to reject the proposals, arguing that Nick Clegg should be included in the “prime minister’s” debate, despite his party polling in the single digits and likely to be around 300 seats short of a majority in May 2015.

Nigel Farage provisionally accepted the terms, tweeting that the “Decision is better than it could have been”. But argued that “If [the] political landscape continues to change we would expect and ask for inclusion in a 2nd debate”.

The main party leaders are yet to react to the proposals, but many pundits think Cameron is willing to let the plans collapse. He has reportedly been advised by his chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, to avoid any debates.

He may be helped by the complaints of the Green party, who think their leader Natalie Bennett should be included in the four-party debate.

They may yet be invited, but they are many reasons why they shouldn't be. People point to the polls, and suggest the Greens are as popular as the Lib Dems, but they aren’t. The Lib Dems are polling at around eight per cent, and have between eight and ten per cent throughout the year. The Greens are far more consistently at around five per cent.

For every two Green voters there are three Lib Dem supporters.

Perhaps more importantly, the party has one MP who they may lose, while the Lib Dems are still likely to have around 20-25 after May 2015. Finally, the Lib Dems are in government and are partly responsible for the Coalition. The Greens have almost no legislative history.

When asked in April, the public agreed. 64 and 74 per cent of voters thought Farage and Clegg should be included in the debates, while just 28 per cent thought the Greens should be, which is scarcely more than thought the leader of the BNP should be included.

As for the current four-party debate, Ladbrokes have already made Farage the favourite to win the affair. He is 2/1 to come out on top, with Cameron second favourite on 5/2. Four years after comprehensively winning the leaders' debates in 2010, Nick Clegg is 3/1.

It is unclear how Ed Miliband will react to the proposals.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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