Corbyn challenges Cameron to annual TV debates

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn © Peter Nicholls
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has challenged Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to take part in annual televised debates, events usually reserved for election time. The call has won the backing of political rivals.

People are entitled to know more about their political leaders and to have their government held to account by the elected opposition in every way possible,” Corbyn told the Independent newspaper.

It is crucial that the prime minister and government are held to account, both inside and outside Parliament, throughout their period in office – not just at election time,” he added.

The call for TV debates follows research by the University of Leeds which found that debates increase public interest in politics by up to 30 percent.

Corbyn, who has made public engagement a central strand of his politics, said: “Democracy relies on the participation of the people. No political leader should shrink from the chance to engage more fully with the public and to test their arguments in debate.

It is clear that televised debates can engage more people in politics, so we should seize the opportunity to hold them more regularly,” he added.

Conservatives appear split by the challenge, with Downing Street denying it has been put to them and one senior party source telling the Guardian it represented a “desperate attempt by Labour to distract voters from the deep divisions that have left the party in turmoil.

Both the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats, however, have said they would take part in TV debates.

The format, which is more commonly used in the United States, was employed in Britain ahead of the 2010 general election.

It was reintroduced for the 2015 election with the inclusion of smaller parties like the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP).

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s performances in 2015 proved highly popular. A spokeswoman for the party told the Guardian the clashes “brought the election campaign alive and were far, far better for having a full range of participants – unlike in 2010 – which properly reflected the diverse range of political choices.