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14 January 2015updated 09 Sep 2021 2:15pm

Leaders urge Cameron to join TV debates in 6am letter strike

Labour, Liberal Democrats and Ukip have requested broadcasters to "provide an empty podium for Cameron".

By Ashley Cowburn

The debate over the leaders’ debate continued today as Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage sent separate but identical letters to the prime minister, warning it would be “unacceptable” for him to block the televised debates.
 
In the synchronised 6am strike the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip argued it would be “unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader” stopped the live debates from taking place.  They also requested for the broadcasters to press ahead with the debates and  “provide an empty podium” should David Cameron have a last minute change of heart.
 
Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said Cameron “should pay a high political price” if he decided not to take part in the debates.
 
Cameron announced last week that the he would not take part in the planned debates unless the Greens were included. But the chances of that happening weakened when Ofcom suggested that the Greens are unlikely to qualify as a major party – despite polling above and on par with the Lib Dems.
 
The planned attack by the unlikely alliance of rival parties will come as an embarrassment to Cameron and a blow to Lynton Crosby, the prime minister’s Australian strategist, who is firmly opposed to the televised debates.  It seems likely that Cameron is trying to avoid a repeat of the 2010 election debates when the Lib Dem opposition thrived and the now-distant “Cleggmania” swept vast swathes of Britain.
 
Today’s letter follows Miliband’s criticism – during an interview on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday – that Cameron was behaving in a “pretty disreputable” way over the proposed televised election debates.
 
Miliband added during the interview: “I want these debates to happen, I think they should happen with David Cameron or without David Cameron. In the end that is a matter for the broadcasters. But I don’t think any one political leader should be able to stop these debates happening, should be able to veto these debates, block these debates. I want them to happen.”
 
It’s worth pointing out after the 2010 general election debates – which were watched by more than 20 million people – Cameron declared that the televised debates were “here to stay” and that “we will have them in every election in the future and that is a really good thing for democracy.” An interesting prime minister’s questions lies ahead later this afternoon.
 
Here’s a copy of the letter Miliband sent to Cameron this morning: 

Dear David

In 2010 the televised leaders’ debates provided an unprecedented opportunity for voters to see the party leaders debate the critical issues facing our country. The debates were watched by more than 20 million people and enthusiastically endorsed by all those who took part, including yourself.

In recent days, you have announced that you are unwilling to take part in debates as proposed by the main broadcasters for the 2015 General Election. I believe it would be a major setback to our democratic processes if these debates were not repeated in 2015 because of one politician’s unwillingness to participate.

I hope you will agree that the decision as to who should take part in the televised debates should not be in the hands of any party leader, each of whom inevitably has their own political interests to defend. It must be a decision independently and objectively arrived at.

As you know, the broadcasters, who have strict obligations of political impartiality under the BBC Charter or their Ofcom licences, have together made such an objective determination. While each of the other parties invited to take part in the debates has their own views on the proposal and the levels of participation offered and will continue to make their case in this regard, we all accept the independence and impartiality of the broadcasters and have committed to take part in the debates. 

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It would be unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader were to deny the public the opportunity to see their leaders debate in public. Therefore, if you are unwilling to reconsider, the three party leaders who have committed to participate will ask the broadcasters to press ahead with the debates and provide an empty podium should you have a last minute change of heart. 

These debates are not the property of the politicians and I do not believe the public will accept lightly the prospect of any politician seeking to block them. 

Yours sincerely​

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Ed Miliband MP