General election 2017: Theresa May not 'running scared' of TV debates but says she won't take part

Ben Riley-Smith
Theresa May has called a general election for June 8, but won't be debating with her rivals on TV during the campaign - EPA

Theresa May has insisted she is not "running scared" of TV election debates but that she will not take part at the forthcoming general election, in a major departure from recent political campaigns.

Mrs May said she wanted to spend the election campaign meeting voters and that she already takes part in debates with Jeremy Corbyn on a weekly basis in the House of Commons in the form of Prime Minister's questions. 

The Prime Minister said  she is “constantly debating" with her opponents as she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “We won’t be doing the television debates”.

When asked if she was “running scared”, she said: “I will be facing Jeremy Corbyn later today in the House of Commons as I face him most Wednesdays of the year in the House of Commons.”

Mrs May said she believed in campaigns where politicians “actually get out and about and meet the voters”.

The Prime Minister’s team argued on Tuesday that the choice at the snap election “is already clear” and as a result Mrs May does not need to appear in debates.

The stance marks a departure from David Cameron, who took part in high-profile TV election debates in both 2010 and 2015 despite occasional reluctance. 

It will open up the Prime Minister to attacks from political opponents that she is running away from criticism and scrutiny.

Sources close to Mrs May pre-empted the criticism by saying she has already undergone a face-to-face TV interview about her decision for an early election.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would take part in TV election debates, a Tory spokesman said: “No. The choice at this election is already clear.

“A strong and stable leadership in the national interest with Theresa May and the Conservatives or weak and unstable coalition Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Cameron led calls for prime-time TV election debates when he was Tory leader of the Opposition in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

General election 2017 | How MPs votedGeneral Election 2017 | MPs who voted against the election

He was more reluctant to take part in major TV debates in the 2015 election campaign, refusing a head-to-head event against Ed Miliband but appearing in a wider debate.

During the EU referendum campaign he avoided the traditional debate format against other politicians, choosing to appear in Question Time-style events with voters instead.

TV debates traditionally are seen to favour the underdog, with little-known politicians often being seen to have outperformed expectations by voters.

Mrs May’s stance is expected to come under intense pressure from TV broadcasters and political opponents in the coming weeks.

During the last election campaign broadcasters threatened to “empty chair” Mr Cameron when he initially refused to take part in debates, leading to concessions.

Political opponents also called him “chicken” for refusing to debate in front of TV cameras and attempted to portray the decision as a sign of weakness.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The Prime Minister’s attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt.

“The British people deserve to see their potential leaders talking about the future of our country.

“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. You have a moral duty to hold these debates.”

 

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