Brown says yes to debate: Arguments start over format

A senior independent figure should be put in charge of arranging televised general election debates between party leaders to stop them being derailed by arguments over details such as formats, David Cameron said last night.

The Tory leader welcomed Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s agreement yesterday to take part in the US presidential-style showdowns, the first of the kind in the UK.

But he warned that politicians’ self interest could scupper the whole idea if an outside figure was not brought in.

He said: “I hope there is a leaders’ debate. I want to take part in it. I think it would be good for British democracy.

“I’ve been arguing for this for over two years. I first challenged Gordon Brown on the subject in May 2007.

“But do you know what? The broadcasters are all going to be looking for advantage in this, the politicians are all going to be looking for advantage in this.

“I think what we need to do is to get a senior, respected and independent figure to work with the broadcasters, to work with the political parties and to come up with a plan that we can then all endorse and take part in.

“My fear is that otherwise people will chip away at the idea of TV debates and they won’t happen.

“I want them to happen and I think this could help make them happen”.

Prime Minister Brown revealed at the weekend that he would “relish the opportunity” to take part in a televised debate. The Labour party is understood to be calling for a long series of debates starting soon, while the Conservatives favour waiting until nearer polling day.

The BBC, ITV and Sky on Friday wrote to the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties with a joint proposal for three live televised debates during the next general election campaign.

The three broadcasters are proposing that each would be responsible for producing and broadcasting a single debate featuring the three party leaders.

Each of the three debates would be transmitted live by the originating broadcaster in peak time and made available to all other British broadcasters subsequently.

BBC News issued on Friday afternoon saying that the broadcasters have formed a joint team to discuss detailed plans with the political parties.

Each of the broadcasters will seek to make suitable arrangements for ensuring due impartiality across the UK, the BBC said.

Last month John Ryley, head of Sky News, revealed that his channel has written to the three party leaders offering to host such a debate saying: “The cameras will be rolling and anyone who doesn’t show up better be ready to explain themselves to the public.”

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