News & Politics

Labour and Tories send spin doctors, but no leaders, to ITV debate


Julie Etchingham will moderate the leaders’ debate. Photograph: Mark Bruce/ITV/PA
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The Conservatives and Labour will send spin doctors to Thursday’s televised leaders’ debate despite Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn refusing to take part. Advisers to the two main parties are due to brief the media after a two-hour election special involving the leaders of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Ukip, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

The decision comes after party sources confirmed that Nicola Sturgeon, Tim Farron, Paul Nuttall, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas were expected to attend.

ITV says the invitation to appear remains open to May and Corbyn until the debate goes on air at 8pm. The broadcaster let the parties know that it would not accept representatives, or spokespeople, to appear in the place of the party leaders.

ITV is not intending to publicly “empty chair” Corbyn and May by leaving conspicuous spaces on the set in Salford. “The stage will have the right number of podiums for leaders who attend on the night,” said an ITV spokeswoman.

ITV would not be drawn on how moderator Julie Etchingham, the ITV News anchor who also led the broadcaster’s 2015 debate, would handle explaining the policy position of Labour and the Tories as topics were debated and questions put from the studio audience.

“The debate will address substantial election questions with enough time allocated for a proper free-flowing debate between the leaders,” said the ITV spokeswoman.

Internally ITV News staff are concerned about the format, and popularity, of the debate if Corbyn and May do not attend.

In 2015, BBC1’s party leaders’ debate suffered a 50% ratings drop on its 2010 election programme after David Cameron and Nick Clegg chose not to appear. The 2015 debate attracted 4.3 million viewers, compared with 7.3 million in 2010, and was beaten in the TV ratings by ITV’s Emmerdale.

“May is definitely not attending, and Corbyn has said he won’t if she won’t, but they have been told they can participate even if they turn up just minutes before broadcast,” said one staffer. “If they don’t turn up people are worried about what kind of debate it is going to end up being. It’s fair to say there is plenty of nervous anticipation. But regardless of how it looks or works on the night it is the leader or nothing.”

ITV’s 2015 leaders’ debate, which featured all seven party leaders, drew an impressive 7 million viewers.

The broadcaster’s 2010 debate – featuring just three politicians, Cameron, Nick Clegg and the then prime minister, Gordon Brown – managed 9.4 million.

The party leaders will get just one break during ITV’s live two-hour debate, when the broadcaster will cut to a commercial break. Meanwhile, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has challenged the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to a televised debate, accusing him of “talking rubbish about our manifesto and our costings”. Source: theguardian

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