Labour accuses Tories of 'muddying the waters' over televised leaders debates

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Labour has accused David Cameron of using Nigel Farage as cover for an attempt to wriggle out of holding televised debates for the party leaders before next year's general election.

The Conservatives said that “all options” were on  the table, including a plan for three debates - a “choice of prime minister” showdown between Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband; a second adding Nick Clegg to the line-up and  a five-way debate also including Mr Farage and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party.

Mr Miliband said he was happy for the UK Independence Party leader to take part. But Labour accused the Tories of “muddying the waters” in the hope that broadcasters will fail to reach agreement on the format. “If Mr Cameron really wanted to have debates, his party would start negotiations on them now,” said a Labour source.

Tory officials insisted that the Prime Minister does want the debates to happen but that talks with broadcasters should start after the party conferences in the autumn. “We don't need to spend the next six months discussing this,” said one Tory source. “There will be plenty of time. It should take only a few weeks to work it out.”