The British General Election campaign gets into full swing this evening with the first televised live debate between Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. The event, which will be aired on Channel 4 and Sky News, comes after months of tortuous negotiations about what format the debates, if any, should take. The impact the debates will have on this year’s elections, however, looks set to be reduced from their oversized influence in 2010. Back then, a surprisingly strong showing from Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg helped propel his party into a power sharing coalition with Cameron’s Conservative Party. This year, Cameron has sought to reduce the potential downside as much as possible.
This evening’s two-header eschews the potential for confrontation between Cameron and Miliband. Each will be interviewed separately by veteran inquisitor Jeremy Paxman and face a grilling from a studio audience. Cameron vetoed an initial suggestion from a direct head to head with Miliband. The odds could not be higher, with polls indicating the two major parties neck and neck and no clear winner in sight come polling day on May 7. Making this year’s election even more unpredictable is the emergence of newer parties to challenge the traditional duopoly enjoyed by the Conservatives and Labour, and to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats.
In Scotland, the SNP promises to emerge as the most dominant political force while across the rest of the UK, rising support for previously fringe party UKIP has both Cameron and Miliband concerned. That’s why all eyes will turn after tonight to April 2, when seven parties take part in one major political rumble to be broadcast on ITV. Another debate between five opposition party leaders, representing Labour, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and UKIP parties will be broadcast on the BBC while the Beeb will also host a special edition of evergreen current affairs show Question Time on April 30 during which Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will appear separately to answer questions from a live studio audience.