David Cameron has issued his “final offer” about televised debates with the other party leaders, saying he will only take part in one debate by the end of this month.
The letter, sent to broadcasters by the Prime Minister’s communication director, attacked broadcasters for the “deeply unsatisfactory process” in which the format for the debates was negotiated.
Under the broadcasters’ current plans, the BBC and ITV would show debates featuring the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Ukip, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens with a third debate on Sky and Channel 4 between Mr Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Labour sources have accused the Conservatives of doing everything they can behind the scenes to “scupper the negotiations and sink the debates”.
The letter to broadcasters, which was seen by The Daily Telegraph, complained about the way they had organised the debates and said the Democratic Unionist Party’s legal action over their exclusion appeared to be “legitimate”.
It makes clear that Mr Cameron will not negotiate further.
“This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the Prime Minister will not be participating in more than one debate,” the letter said.
“Despite the Prime Minister having been clear about his concern around holding debates in the short campaign, you did not consult us before issuing a press release last October outlining your plans for three debates during that period.
“Had you consulted us, we could have also told you that we also did not think it was appropriate to exclude the Green Party from the process. Despite all of this, we then entered into negotiations in good faith, during which I made the case for a more representative debates structure, including the Greens. It is fair to say that the desire to exclude the Greens was clear from all other parties present.
"Three months later - and again without consultation - you surprised us again by proposing a new seven-party structure, this time not only inviting the Greens, but Plaid Cymru and the SNP as well. Again, this was a flawed proposal - that has resulted in the DUP initiating what appears to be legitimate legal action.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
"Since this proposal has been suggested, there has been chaos. In recent weeks, you have avoided letting the parties sit in a room to hammer out proposals, making progress impossible."
Mr Miliband made clear today he wanted the debates to take place.
“I will do it any time, any place, anywhere. I want these debates to happen. The British public deserve it. David Cameron should now name the date,” he said.
The broadcasters said in a statement: “The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky have received an email from the Prime Minister's office with a proposal. The broadcasters are committed to providing our audiences with election debates.
“Twenty two million people watched the debates in 2010 and we believe the debates helped people to engage with the election.
“The broadcasters have set out their proposals and continue to talk to all the relevant parties on an equitable basis. We will respond to the Conservatives' proposal in due course.”
In a statement about the “final offer” letter, Labour said: “We continue to support the broadcasters proposals, including for seven-way debates alongside a two-way debate.
“But this is an outrageous attempt from the Prime Minister to bully the broadcasters into dropping their proposals for a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
“That it comes only hours after Ed Miliband called David Cameron's bluff and said he would debate him any time, any place, shows the lengths David Cameron will go to run scared of a debate with Ed Miliband.”Reuse content