LONDON: British opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband on Saturday accused Prime Minister David Cameron of trying to “chicken out” of head-to-head televised debates with him ahead of a national election on May 7 and said he would take part with or without Cameron.
Broadcasters had proposed three debates, two of them between the leaders of seven parties and one between just Miliband and Cameron, the two people most likely to become prime minister after May 7, but Cameron has rejected their proposal.
Instead, the Conservative leader has said he would take part in just one debate, with six other party leaders, a stance widely seen as a tactic to protect his own high personal ratings and deprive his main rival of publicity.
In a speech at the annual conference of Labour’s Scottish branch, Miliband said his party had written to the broadcasters to confirm he would take part in the proposed debates whatever Cameron did.
Pressure from Miliband and from the broadcasters poses a dilemma for Cameron, who must decide what would be worse for him: letting the debates go ahead without him, or backing down and agreeing to take part after all.
“He says this election is all about leadership, all about the choice between him and me, and when it comes to a debate between him and me, he’s running scared,” Miliband said.
“I say to David Cameron … You can try to chicken out of the debates, but don’t ever again claim that you provide strong leadership … When all people will see is an empty chair, his claims of leadership will be exposed as empty.”
Cameron is isolated over the debates issue, with the other main party leaders saying they are keen to take part.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats who have been the junior coalition partners since 2010, on Saturday accused the Conservatives of “arrogance” for trying to dictate the terms of the debates.
“If David Cameron is too important or too busy to turn up, if he doesn’t want to defend the record of this coalition government, then I will,” Clegg told the BBC.
The election is the most unpredictable in decades. Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck in the polls, the Lib Dems’ ratings have collapsed since the last election and three other parties are enjoying a surge in popularity.
If neither of the two main parties wins an outright majority of seats in parliament’s House of Commons, as seems likely, one or more of the smaller parties will hold the balance of power and complex coalition talks will ensue.