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?

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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.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.