THERESA May will not take part in any TV debates during the general election campaign.
A Conservative party spokesman said there was no need for the televised spectacle of the Prime Minister going head to head with the other party leaders, “The choice at this election is already clear,” they claimed. “Strong and stable leadership in the national interest with Theresa May and the Conservatives, or weak and unstable coalition government led by Jeremy Corbyn.”
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “If PM doesn’t have the confidence to debate her plans on TV with other leaders, broadcasters should empty chair her and go ahead anyway.”
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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “If this #GeneralElection is about leadership, as Theresa May said this morning, she should not be dodging head-to-head TV debates.”
Referencing the 1992 General election when the two were candidates in the Durham West constituency, LibDem leader Tim Farron said TV debates were now an expected part of the general election. He, like Sturgeon, suggested the debates go ahead without the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister’s attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt,” Farron said.
“I expect the broadcasters to do the right thing, don’t let the Conservatives call the shots. If the Prime Minister won’t attend, empty chair her. Corbyn can defend her position as they seem to vote the same on these matters.”
The televised debates have been a key fixture of the last two general elections, proving to have some influence. The Labour, Tory and LibDem leaders debated each other three times, on the BBC, Sky News and ITV before the 2010 general election.
After lengthy, drawn out negotiations between all sides, there was just one debate ahead of the 2015 vote, with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of four other parties.
Though there were other “debates” where the Prime Minister was interviewed and faced audience questions, as well as a Question Time special.
Researchers at Leeds University said the televised events influenced first-time voters, younger voters and those who claimed they were not interested in politics.
Of the thousands spoken to by the academics, over 30 per cent said it made them “more interested in the election campaign”, with 70 per cent of viewers saying they knew more about what the party leaders were like as a result.
Professor Stephen Coleman, who led the research team, said: “We found that many voters feel they have a right to see the party leaders debate on television – the default assumption should now be that debates happen. Debates should become part of the fabric of major political events.”
Nick Clegg’s performance in the TV debate in 2010 saw a surge in support for the LibDem leader. That support, however, scattered after the subsequent coalition with the Tories, and the reneging on a manifesto commitment on tuition fees left supporters disheartened.
Not taking part doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact. In 2015, Miliband accused Cameron of being a coward for only once debating him face-to-face. The Tories won a majority, In other TV news, the BBC confirmed Huw Edwards will take over election presenting duties from veteran host David Dimbleby.