ITV to air first party leaders’ TV debate on 2 April

BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News to broadcast following debates which will take place after official election campaign begins, contrary to David Cameron’s wishes

The first TV debate between party leaders will take place on ITV on 2 April, followed by the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News in a timetable that appears to run contrary to the wishes of David Cameron.

ITV’s debate, hosted by Julie Etchingham, will feature seven party leaders, as will the BBC event fronted by David Dimbleby on 16 April, according to the broadcasters’ plans published on Monday.

The Sky and Channel 4 debate, which will feature David Cameron going head to head with Ed Miliband, will take place on 30 April, just days before the general election on 7 May. It will be presented by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley.

The order of the debates was published on Monday after a drawing of lots between the four broadcasters.

Cameron – who prompted an overhaul of the broadcasters’ original proposals for the debates after he objected to Ukip leader Nigel Farage taking part without the Greens – said last month that he wanted the debates to take place before the official election campaign, which begins at the end of March.

“The other point I made, which I have been making for well over a year, is that the debates are better outside of the election campaign,” said Cameron.

“Last time I found, although the debates were excellent and I enjoyed taking part in them, they took all the life out of the election campaign, no one could about anything else.”

The Scottish broadcaster STV is understood to want to hold its own leaders’ debate on 7 April. STV, the channel 3 licence holder in Scotland, intends to hold a four-way debate including Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of the three main political parties in Westminster, it is believed.

It would fall between the first debate on ITV, on 2 April, and the second, on the BBC, on 16 April. But like the proposed nationwide leader debates, it remains to be seen which leaders take part.

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky said last month they would “empty chair” any party leaders who refused to take part in the revised proposals for the debates.

The broadcasters have been in constant dialogue with the political parties in order to get the debates on air, with the publication of the timetable the clearest indication yet that they will happen.

But it remains to be seen who will take part, with Cameron openly critical of the plans to repeat the debates of 2010, when he went head to head with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg.

Cameron’s aides are said to be determined to ensure he does not take part, fearing a repeat would boost the fortunes of Farage in a similar way to Clegg five years ago. Many senior Tories blame the 2010 debates for stopping them winning an outright majority.

Broadcasters overhauled their proposals following Cameron’s opposition, with the BBC and ITV debates due to feature the leaders of the Green party, Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, as well as Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage.

The Channel 4/Sky News debate remained the same as in the original proposal, a head to head between Cameron and Miliband.

Cameron’s stance led Labour leader Ed Miliband, his Liberal Democrat counterpart Clegg and Ukip’s Farage to jointly call on the broadcasters to go ahead with the debates without the Tory leader if he refused to take part.

The dates of the debates are also unchanged from the original proposal by the broadcasters in October last year.

“The key thing is these are the broadcasters’ debates, held by the broadcasters, and the politicians are invited to take part,” said one source close to the negotiations.

“We said they are going to happen and this is the next stage in that. It was always the proposal that they would take place during the election campaign.”

Leader debates hosted by the UK’s main broadcasters are not the only offer on the table. Guardian News & Media and Telegraph Media Group have proposed an internet debate with a female moderator to be streamed live online in a partnership with YouTube.


John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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