Downing Street has agreed to an offer from the broadcasters for one seven-way election debate on 2 April. The Tories felt that it was close enough to their final offer of one multi-party debate in the week starting 23 March to be acceptable. However, Labour has yet to agree. A Labour source said, ‘We’ve accepted the proposal from the broadcasters for three debates. There is no other proposal from the broadcasters.’
As well as this one seven-way debate, there would also be several election specials involving the various party leaders under this scheme. On 26 March, Cameron and Miliband would be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and then questioned by a studio audience in a Sky / Channel 4 special. But crucially, the two leaders would appear separately—never sharing the stage. Then, on 16 April there would be a challengers special involving the SNP, Ukip, Plaid and the Greens. Finally, on 30 April, Cameron, Miliband and Nick Clegg would each have separate half hours in a Question Time-style event with David Dimbleby.
It is easy to see why this set-up appeals to Downing Street. There is just one seven-way debate—and one in which Miliband will have to fend off the Greens and the SNP. Ukip also don’t get a great deal out of this arrangement, being confined to the one seven-way and the challengers’ debate. It also removes the risk of Cameron being empty-chaired and the debate about the debates distracting from the Tories’ main message.