Broadcasters have attempted to bounce the Tory leadership candidates into TV debates – by announcing plans for head-to-head battles without the party’s agreement.
In a press release issued yesterday afternoon, the BBC said that it will host the televised ‘hustings event’ in mid-June, as part of its coverage of ‘the contest which will decide the next UK Prime Minister’.
BBC news boss Fran Unsworth added that the channel’s audience should ‘get a chance to see the candidates debate’ each other and to ‘scrutinise’ their policy proposals, because the vote by Tory Party members ‘will profoundly affect us all’.
A source close to the Johnson campaign said today: ‘We are happy to take part and will talk to all the broadcasters’
Shortly afterwards, Sky and ITV said they will each host live debates – with Sky’s plans including a showdown between the final two candidates, hosted by news anchor Kay Burley.
Their plans appeared to ambush some Conservative figures.
Tory chairman Brandon Lewis has given private assurances to the leadership candidates that the party is not endorsing the proposal.
According to source, he has insisted that it is their decision to make.
The BBC would not say who it has or has not spoken to about the debates, but sources stressed that the hustings will take place after two rounds of voting by Tory party members.
Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis has been lined up to anchor the multi-candidate debate for the BBC
However, it is unclear how many candidates will be left by that point – or who they will be.
The announcements came after public calls for live TV debates by Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock, two of the candidates vying to be the next Prime Minister.
Mr Hancock, the Health Secretary, wrote to the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky saying it was important that the competition is a ‘truly national debate about the future direction of the UK’ rather than ‘just an internalfacing party conversation’.
He even went so far as to call for two separate debates – one between all of the candidates and one between the final two.
Jeremy Hunt could be one of the leadership candidates taking part if they agree to the BBC’s plan
Mr Stewart has upped the pressure on Mr Johnson to sign up to televised leadership debates, saying he wanted them to go ‘mano a mano’
Yesterday, it appeared the BBC had taken notes. In a press release, it described how Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis would moderate a hustings debate, then ask the two winning candidates to put their case to the audience in a ‘single special edition of BBC1’s Question Time’.
The same two candidates will also be invited to participate in one-toone interviews with This Week host Andrew Neil, in two separate programmes.
Miss Unsworth said: ‘The decision being made by Conservative Party members will profoundly affect us all, so it feels right that BBC audiences get a chance to see the candidates’ debate with each other, and that we scrutinise the various policy proposals they will be standing on.’
She added: ‘Our plans include bringing the final two candidates in front of the same Question Time audience on the same night to be quizzed by the public, as although the final say will fall to Conservative party members, it’s firmly in the public interest for audiences to question and hear from the next potential Prime Minister.’