Leaders TV showdowns ‘should be enshrined in law’

A LABOUR government would take legal steps to ensure TV leaders’ debates become a permanent feature in general election campaigns, Ed Miliband has announced.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown after live 2010 televised debate. Picture: AFP
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown after live 2010 televised debate. Picture: AFP

Mr Miliband will move to put “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing in an effort to avoid them becoming subject to the kind of political wrangling that has characterised the programmes scheduled for next month in the run-up to polling day.

The new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts.

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That would mean parties are consulted but not given the right to veto the debates taking place.

This could be done by establishing the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group as a trust in statute so it is the recognised legal body for deciding dates, format, volume and attendees of the debates.

A Labour government would set a deadline of 2017 for changes to be put in place, giving more than enough time to plan the debates for a 2020 election.

The four broadcasters - the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 - have said they will stick to their previously-announced plans for three debates during the election campaign. They are now urging the Prime Minister to “reconsider” his refusal to take part in these shows, including a head-to-head with Mr Miliband.

The BBC is expected to stop short of “empty chairing” the Prime Minister if he does not participate and is reportedly considering giving him his own election programme to meet strict rules on impartiality during election campaigns.