Jeremy Corbyn has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to participate in an annual "state of the nation debate" between the UK's political leaders. The Opposition leader said the move is crucial to engaging the public further in national politics and holding the government to account in "every way possible".
Corbyn's calls for the initiative have been endorsed by Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, Nicola Sturgeon and Lib Dem chief, Tim Farron, with both saying that they would take part in the debate. A Downing Street source said that it would be willing to "look at the formal details of any proposal".
"I am challenging the Prime Minister to an annual televised 'state of the nation' debate of the party leaders," Corbyn said. "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
"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," the Labour leader told The Independent. In 2010, televised debates helped propel Nick Clegg into the spotlight and prior to the 2015 general election, three debates were staged. These included a showdown between Cameron and Ed Miliband, a seven-way clash between the seven main political parties and a faceoff between the opposition leaders.
Despite the cross-party support for Corbyn's proposal, one senior Downing Street source labelled it as a "desperate attempt by Labour to distract voters from the deep divisions that have left the party in turmoil". Farron said that he was ready to face the other leaders "anywhere and at any time".
The Lib Dem leader said: "David Cameron said in 2010 that he supported debates and in 2015 did all he could to avoid them. He has been two-faced about this issue for years. He should, for once in his life, match his words with deeds. I will lay out why the Liberal Democrats are the only real alternative to the Conservatives – both socially just and fiscally responsible."
A spokeswoman for the SNP said that Sturgeon would welcome a debate, saying that the contests "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".
A government source said that it will look "at the formal details of any proposal". The proposed "state of the nation debate" is a way to increase the population's interest and involvement in politics, something which Corbyn said is "a key responsibility of all political leaders".
"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," said Corbyn. "It is clear that televised debates can engage more people in politics, so we should seize the opportunity to hold them more regularly."