General election TV debates: Miliband would make them a permanent feature under Labour

The Labour leader said that it would pass a law to ensure debates at every election, making it harder for a party to wriggle out of them out of self-interest

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Televised election debates between party leaders would be a legal requirement under plans to put make them a permanent feature announced by Ed Miliband.

The Labour leader said that if his party wins power in May, it would pass a law to ensure that the debates took place at every election, making it harder for a party to wriggle out of them out of self-interest.

The rules, to be set by an independent body, would be similar to those for party political broadcasts --on which parties are consulted by broadcasters on the timing, number and length, but do not have a veto.

Although a Labour government  would not pass a law forcing leaders to turn up, its move would give broadcasters a guarantee that debates would take place at future elections.  Mr Miliband said: “It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people, not to the prime minister of the day.”

 

But a Tory spokesman dismissed the Labour plan, saying: “We are focussed on the big issues that matter to hardworking taxpayers like fixing our economy. This shows that Labour have got their priorities all wrong and are more interested in playing politics.”

There is no sign of an end to the deadlock over this year’s debates. Broadcasters are sticking to their plans for three debates in April during the election campaign, while David Cameron’s “final position” is for a single debate involving seven party leaders in the week starting March 23.

Liz Truss, the Environment Secretary, told  the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that debates during the campaign would “a huge distraction from the issues." Asked if that meant Mr Cameron will not turn up, she said: "That's my understanding, absolutely.”

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, accused the broadcasters of making a "real hash" of trying to organise the debates. She said: "The Prime Minister has made a very clear offer….Otherwise all we are doing all the way through the campaign is talking about the debates.”

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