Watchdog forces ITV to drop hour-long Blair debate on war

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Indy Politics

Plans for Tony Blair to take part in a live television debate on the war in Afghanistan have been abandoned after broadcasting watchdogs said similar events would have to be staged for other party leaders.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC) ruled that the hour-long debate on the war and other issues, which would have been shown on ITV1 tonight, would have to be repeated with Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy.

The programme, scheduled to be chaired by Sir Trevor McDonald as a special edition of his weekly current affairs show, was dropped by ITV following the ITC's intervention.

Sir Trevor thrashed out details for the debate when the format was agreed and a studio booked in Nottingham last week. ITV had expected six million viewers and moved an episode of the soap Emmerdale from its prime-time slot.

An ITV spokesman said last night: "In the middle of a war and with major domestic issues to debate this would have given the people a chance to put their Prime Minister on the spot. Amid concerns that people are turning off politics, this is something that could really have engaged viewers' interest."

Downing Street was forced to agree to similar events for William Hague and Mr Kennedy when Mr Blair appeared on the Dimbleby programme in the election campaign. Officials had assumed that no similar restriction would apply outside the run-up to an election.