David Cameron has said he will not change his mind over his refusal to go head-to-head with Ed Miliband in a television debate.
The Prime Minister has given broadcasters the ultimatum of a seven-way debate ahead of the start of the election campaign – or nothing.
Mr Cameron claims the debates in 2010 got in the way of campaigning and so wants any debate to take place before March 30, which would be before the release of the Conservatives election manifesto.
Over the weekend Mr Cameron’s chief spin doctor Craig Oliver stated the Prime Minister’s “final position” was for a single debate to take place in the week starting 23 March.
The four broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have said they will stick to their previously announced plans for three debates during the campaign ahead of the General Election on May 7 this year.
Asked about the debates during a speech on free schools on Monday, Mr Cameron said: “I won’t be changing my opinion.”
He said he was happy to debate but was still not willing to consider debating after March 30 – or doing more than one televised session.
At the weekend, Labour said if they were in power in May they would take legal steps to ensure televised leaders’ debates become permanent features in general election campaigns.
Mr Cameron has been accused of “running scared” on the issue and of “moral cowardice”.
Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman told Sky News’ Murnaghan Programme on Sunday there should be a legal framework underpinning the TV debates similar to that for pre-election broadcasts and election spending.
She said: “I think the debates are an important part of our democracy, in which case let’s not have the prime minister of the day ducking and weaving because he is afraid of actually justifying his record.
Nick Clegg has offered to take Mr Cameron’s place in a head-to-head with Mr Miliband to defend the coalition’s record in government.
Broadcasters are planning a seven-way debate involving Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Mr Clegg and the leaders of the Greens, UKIP, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru on ITV on 2 April, followed by a second show on BBC featuring the same line-up on 16 April.
A final one-on-one clash between the Tory and Labour leaders would be broadcast on Sky News and Channel 4 on 30 April – exactly a week before the 7 May election.