PRIME Minister David Cameron is to take part in the first of a series of major party leaders’ TV interviews in the New Year to kick off the countdown to May’s general election, as the latest poll reveals that his party trails seven points behind Labour.
The series of interviews on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show will also include Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, First Minister
Nicola Sturgeon and England and Wales Green leader Natalie Bennett.
With his party trailing Labour by seven points in the latest Opinium poll, Mr Cameron has decided to go on the front foot by starting off the series of heavyweight interviews.
The Opinium poll of 1,957 adults across the UK puts Labour on 36 per cent, an increase of two points on a fortnight ago, with the Tories unchanged on 29 per cent, Ukip down three on 16 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 6 per cent.
But in a boost to the Prime Minister, Ukip leader Mr Farage’s personal approval rating has slipped below that of Mr Cameron following a series of damaging headlines for the Eurosceptic party. His net approval rating – the percentage of voters who approve of his performance minus those who disapprove – fell to -17 per cent, eight points lower than a fortnight ago and the lowest recorded for him by Opinium.
Mr Cameron’s rating fell by two points to -11 per cent, while Mr Miliband’s improved by three points to -28 per cent, with Mr Clegg down one point on -48 per cent.
Since the last Opinium poll, Mr Farage has faced criticism for comments about breastfeeding in which he suggested that mothers should be willing to “sit in the corner” in restaurants while feeding babies to avoid offending people. The party has also been hit by the resignation of would-be MP Kerry Smith over a leaked recording of him making derogatory comments.
The decision to give Mr Farage a similar status to the heads of Westminster’s three biggest parties will add to the pressure for him to take part in the leaders’ debates on TV in the run-up to 7 May’s polling day.
Under plans put forward by broadcasters, former Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman would chair a one-on-one contest between Mr Cameron and Mr
Miliband for Sky News and Channel 4.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders would clash in a BBC debate presented by David Dimbleby.
The trio will be joined by Mr Farage for an ITV programme chaired by Julie Etchingham.
But no agreement has been reached with the political leaders and earlier this month Mr Clegg – who was the major beneficiary from the debates in 2010 – warned that objections to the format from the smaller parties must not be allowed to present the Tories with an “alibi” to duck out of the televised showdowns.
The Tories are clearly reluctant to sign up for the live head-to-heads and objections from the smaller parties may “unwittingly” allow Mr Cameron to avoid taking part, the Deputy Prime Minister claimed.
The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have called to be included in the debates, insisting it is “unjustifiable and undemocratic” to leave them out.
The Andrew Marr Show’s editor Barney Jones said he hoped the interviews with the party leaders would help voters to make up their minds ahead of the election.
He said: “The Andrew Marr Show has an unrivalled record in British broadcasting – we create more news stories than any other TV interview programme broadcast in Britain.
“We hope and expect that this series of interviews will open election year by extracting policies, priorities and commitments from party leaders that will help voters decide where to place their trust.”
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