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Rival Party Leaders Say Theresa May Is "Dodging" Election TV Debates

The PM says she'd rather "get out and about" and knock on voters' doors.

Toby Melville / Reuters

Theresa May won't take part in any TV debates in the run-up to the general election in June, Downing Street said.

The prime minister's decision to rule out a head-to-head with other party leaders drew taunts from the opposition, with Labour's Jeremy Corbyn saying she was "dodging" debate.

If this #GeneralElection is about leadership, as Theresa May said this morning, she should not be dodging head-to-head TV debates.

Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, May said: "I am constantly debating with my opponents. We won't be doing the television debates. I will be facing Jeremy Corbyn later today in the House of Commons. I face him most Wednesdays of the year in the House of Commons."

The prime minister denied she was "running scared", adding: "I believe in campaigns where politicians actually get out and about and meet the voters."

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, urged broadcasters to hold debates anyway, with an empty chair where May would have stood.

Leaders have a "moral duty" to explain their positions to the public ahead of the election, Farron said, and the Conservative leader was holding the public "in contempt" by trying to avoid scrutiny.

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

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, also said the broadcasters should "empty chair" the prime minister:

If PM doesnt have the confidence to debate her plans on TV with other leaders, broadcasters should empty chair her… https://t.co/RYi6dDhtrW

However, Number 10 is unlikely to be swayed by the criticism given her huge lead in the opinion polls.

Downing Street's calculation is likely to be that she will get enough media coverage to make her case to voters without taking the risk of going one-on-one with rival leaders. A poor display in one broadcast could weaken her standing as prime minister and give one of the other leaders a polling boost.

Ahead of the last general election, in 2015, David Cameron's advisers went to great lengths to avoid a head-to-head clash on primetime TV with Labour leader Ed Miliband.

And in the run-up to the EU referendum last summer, Cameron wouldn't do a TV debate with leading figures from the Leave campaign such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. He agreed to do live TV events with the BBC, ITV, and Sky News, but only in a town-hall-style question-and-answer session in which he was alone on stage, not conventional debates in which he was pitted directly against another leader.

Alex Spence is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Alex Spence at alex.spence@buzzfeed.com.

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