The broadcasters have reached an agreement with the political parties over the format of the debates.
David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, plus the leaders of the Greens, Ukip, the SNP and Plaid Cymru do battle 2 April, on ITV, with Julie Etchingham in the chair. On 16 April, the leaders of the opposition parties – Miliband, Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon – will meet in a “challengers’ debate” while Miliband and Cameron will take part in a Q&A 26 March on Sky News and Channel 4, presented by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley. Significantly, the two men will not debate one another in a rebuff for Labour.
Who’s the winner here? Ed Miliband wanted a head to head with the Prime Minister – and Cameron didn’t want debates at all. Labour have managed to embarrass the Prime Minister into debates he wanted to avoid at all costs, but without securing the one-on-one that Team Miliband so craved. And that Opposition debate looks like it could turn into a disaster for the Labour leader, alone for an hour with the four anti-establishment parties.
But let’s call it a 2-2 draw – but with Miliband’s lower expectations in the debates a potentially vital away goal. Labour strategists, who feared debates wouldn’t happen at all, are optimistic that the Labour leader will be able to transform his ratings in the debates. But it could be that one of the smaller parties is able to run away with it as Nick Clegg did, with devastating consequences for both Labour and the Tories.