The Deputy Prime Minister has said that if broadcasters agree to allow the DUP into the general election TV debates, then David Cameron will demand that the Monster Raving Looney Party is also included.
After the major broadcasters refused to back down by allowing Northern Ireland’s largest Westminster party to join other regional parties in the national debates, Nick Clegg on Thursday attempted to pressurise Mr Cameron to agree to a simpler format for the debates.
The broadcasters also rejected the Prime Minister’s call for the pre-election clash to be moved forward so they take place before the official start of the campaign.
The four main broadcasters have put forward proposals for three live TV debates to be held on April 2, 16 and 30 – with the first clash coming just days after Parliament dissolves on March 30 and the final broadcast a week ahead of the May 7 poll.
But Mr Cameron is calling for the televised showdowns to be staged earlier, warning that the debates “sucked the life out” of the campaign when they were first held in 2010.
In a statement, the BBC and ITV rejected his proposal and reiterated their position that the network debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate.
The BBC and ITV are planning to stage a debate with seven party leaders – Mr Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Mr Clegg, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, the Greens’ Natalie Bennett, the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.
Sky News and Channel 4 plan to host a head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, as the two leaders most likely to be Prime Minister following the election.
Mr Clegg accused Mr Cameron of “ducking and weaving” in an “increasingly laughable” attempt to avoid taking part in the debates, after the Prime Minister suggested that Northern Irish parties should be included alongside the seven parties already invited to take part.
The BBC and ITV wrote on Wednesday to the DUP, confirming that they would not be invited. BBC director general Lord Hall said the corporation “would not be fulfilling our obligations of impartiality to the voters of Northern Ireland” if it gave a podium to the DUP but not to the other four parties with substantial support in the Province.
Mr Clegg said: “Having expressed truly moving and touching dewy-eyed compassion for the place of the Greens, now David Cameron says he is equally worried for the fate of the DUP.
“I suspect next week he will be worried about the fate of the Monster Raving Loony Party and when they are in, possibly the tea lady and why she is not in the debate as well.”