More information has emerged about the TV debates that, officially at least, are set to take place during the election campaign.
ITV will host the first debate on 2 April, just three days after the dissolution of parliament. Seven party leaders have been invited: David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage and Leanne Wood.
The same line-up has been invited to the second debate, which will be hosted by the BBC on 16 April.
The third and final debate will be hosted jointly by Sky News and Channel 4, and will take place on 30 April: precisely one week before polling day. Only David Cameron and Ed Miliband will be invited to this event.
The dates of the debates have been known for a while, but not the order in which they will be hosted. I’ve updated my timetable of the election campaign with the new details.
What’s yet to be made clear is exactly who will take up the broadcasters’ invitation to appear. Labour has confirmed that Ed Miliband will attend the head-to-head debate on 30 April, but David Cameron has yet to do likewise. The Liberal Democrats have complained about their exclusion from the third debate, and not stated whether Nick Clegg will turn up for the other two.
At some point the broadcasters will have to make it clear whether they plan to stage these debates regardless of who attends. It’s a strategy they have intimated they are willing to consider, but one which might leave them open to charges of partiality or irresponsibility, even though they’re under no legal obligation to ensure a balance of viewpoints within one specific programme.
We’re also waiting to hear the details of other debates that may or may not take place during the campaign. These should include debates in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland between leaders of the respective national parties; and a head-to-head between the chancellor, shadow chancellor and their equivalents in the smaller parties.
I tend towards the view that the more live debates, the better. They help give the campaign structure, get politics on TV in primetime, and give the public a chance to see senior MPs discussing things at length instead of trading short bursts of pre-scripted rage.
As such I really hope the leaders’ debates take place, even if not all of the participants bother to show up. British politics is not going to crumble at the glimpse of an empty chair.