Nigel Farage has been invited to take part in a live television debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg ahead of next May’s general election.
The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 today announced joint plans to hold three debates in the six weeks before polling day. One would be a “choice of prime minister” head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, while the other two would include the Liberal Democrat leader. The third debate would involve all three main party leaders and Mr Farage.
The broadcasters said the formats reflected "changes in the political landscape" since Britain’s first prime ministerial debates were held during the 2010 election campaign. There were three debates involving the three mainstream party leaders, with the first attracting 10m viewers.
Although Mr Cameron has floated similar proposals involving the Ukip leader ahead of next May, Labour and the Lib Dems fear the Tories will sabotage the debates during the negotiations because they do not want to give Mr Miliband an equal platform.
There is no guarantee the parties will back the broadcasters’ plan. Ukip will ask to be included in more than one debate. Mr Farage said: “The decision is better than it could have been. It does at least recognise the increasing popularity of Ukip. However if the political landscape continues to change, we would expect and ask for inclusion in a second debate."
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
The Lib Dems said today: “We do not accept the proposal that the Lib Dems, as a party of government, should be prevented from defending our record in one of the TV debates. That is the case we will make strongly in the negotiations that will now take place and we urge the other parties to join us around the negotiating table without excuse or delay.”
Video: Farage in debate against Nick Clegg in March
Today’s proposals are:
• One head-to-head debate between the two leaders who could become prime minister – Conservative and Labour. Co-produced by Sky News and Channel 4 and chaired by Jeremy Paxman. Kay Burley would introduce the programme and present the post-debate analysis. Would be carried live on Sky and Channel 4 and their digital platforms, and have a major presence across social media.
• One debate between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders. Produced by the BBC and presented by David Dimbleby. Would be broadcast on BBC One with extensive live coverage on other BBC TV and Radio networks and online.
• One debate between the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip leaders. Would be produced and broadcast by ITV, chaired by Julie Etchingham and would air on ITV's main channel and online.
There is no proposal to include the Green Party, even though like Ukip, they have one MP, and are running the Lib Dems close in the opinion polls.
The plan envisages three debates at fortnightly intervals on April 2, April 16 and April 30 at locations around the UK.
Each debate would be open to questions across all subject areas and would take place in front of audiences comprising members of the general public, who would put their questions to the party leaders.
Audiences would be asked to submit questions and the broadcasters plan to work with social media organisations, including Twitter and Facebook, to ensure the widest possible public engagement. Each broadcaster would make their debate available live to all other media outlets.