DAVID Cameron has been accused of “moral cowardice” after saying he will only take part in one TV debate featuring seven party leaders before the general election.
The Prime Minister faced a barrage of criticism after indicating that he was not willing to take part in a one-to-one debate with the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband. Yesterday Mr Miliband said Mr Cameron was “running scared” and offered to debate him “any time, any place, anywhere”.
The Labour leader said Mr Cameron was “cowering from the public”, after Downing Street made clear he was not willing to take part in a one-on-one televised clash between the two men vying to be prime minister, and instead proposed a single debate involving at least seven leaders, to take place before the campaign officially starts.
Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg offered to stand in for Mr Cameron in the debate with Mr Miliband scheduled for broadcast on Sky News and Channel 4 on 30 April – exactly a week ahead of the 7 May general election.
The long-running saga about the format of pre-election televised debates took a twist on Wednesday night when Downing Street made a “final offer” to broadcasters. It said Mr Cameron would only sign up to one 90-minute contest involving at least seven party leaders to be held before March 30.
In the first Twitter message he has ever addressed directly to the Prime Minister, Mr Miliband responded: “Why are you running scared of TV debates? The British people want a head-to-head TV debate. Let’s give it to them.”
The Labour leader later added: “It is now clear that David Cameron is ducking the debate with me. He is cowering from the public.
“The British people deserve this debate. I’ll debate him any time, any place, anywhere. He should stop ducking and weaving and name the date.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s former director of communications Alastair Campbell described Mr Cameron’s approach as “morally cowardly and democratically wrong”.
Writing a blog titled: “Cameron’s ducking of the TV debate – morally cowardly and democratically wrong”, Mr Campbell said: “How well I remember David Cameron proclaiming how marvellous the TV leaders’ debates were and, more importantly, how vital they were to the democratic process in the modern media age. And how pathetic it is, five years on, to watch his wriggling and weaselling to avoid them.
“If Ed Miliband is as hopeless as Cameron and his press poodles say he is, why is the Tory leader so scared of going head-to-head? He can’t claim to be a presidential figure whose prime ministerial qualities will inevitably shine through the electoral fog if he is cowering behind the sofa at the prospect of facing Miliband – unmediated by the press – in a live head-to-head encounter.”
Liberal Democrats accused the PM of trying to “hold the debates to ransom”, while the Electoral Reform Society said that it would be a “national embarrassment” if they did not go ahead. As well as the 30 April two-leader clash, the broadcasters have proposed seven-way debates also involving Mr Clegg and the leaders of Ukip, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP on ITV on 2 April and BBC on 16 April.
In a joint statement, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky said they would respond to the Conservatives’ proposal in due course.
Asked whether Mr Cameron was “running scared” of a head-to-head debate with Mr Miliband, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Clearly, that’s not a premise that I would accept.”
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