Merkel's UK speech: The exclusive club she is joining

Westminster Hall

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has addressed both Houses of Parliament, becoming the latest in a long line of dignitaries to do so since the first in 1939.

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23 March 1939: President of France Albert Lebrun
French President Albert Lebrun on state visit to UK
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21 October 1942: Prime Minister of South Africa Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts
Jan Smuts

South Africa's PM, who had served in Lloyd George's war cabinet during World War I, found his military expertise was again in demand in Churchill's war cabinet.

The future co-author of the preamble to the UN charter was invited to share his thoughts on war and peace with MPs and peers in Parliament's royal gallery, although the Commons library reports that it was not a "formal presentation".

Parliament itself had sustained severe damage by this period in the Second World War, and Smuts noted: "Irreplaceable treasures of a thousand years of almost uninterrupted progress and culture and peaceful civilisation have disappeared forever.

"But one thing is not lost; one thing, the most precious of all, remains, and has rather increased," he continued. "The soul remains."

He paid tribute to Sir Winston as "the embodiment of the spirit of eternal youth and resilience, the spirit of a great, undying nation in one of the greatest moments of history".

"The stage is set," he declared of the war, "for the last, the offensive phase".

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11 May 1944: Prime Minister of Canada Mackenzie King
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17 May 1945: King George VI
King George VI King George VI had visited arms factories during the war

The King celebrated victory in Europe with a trip to Parliament, telling MPs and peers of his gratitude to all of them and his subjects for their wartime service.

"There was visibly present in the royal gallery something immensely venerable and at the same time very much alive," reported the Times.

"The King in his Councils in his Parliaments, the organ that through the centuries has been the very heart of England, ceaselessly driving the life's blood of liberty through the veins and arteries of the nation."

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21 August 1945: King George VI

The King returned to Parliament to mark overall victory in World War II.

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9 March 1950: French president Vincent Auriol
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26 October 1950: King George VI

Opening the new House of Commons chamber, which had been destroyed in World War II, the King delivered a speech to MPs and peers.

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22 October 1954: Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie
Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, making a radio broadcast in 1954
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24 April 1956: Soviet PM Nikolai Bulganin and first secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev
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7 April 1960: French president General Charles de Gaulle
General Charles de Gaulle and his wife Yvonne

In his Westminster Hall speech, President de Gaulle recalled how the UK, "heroic and alone, took upon herself the liberty of the world".

He expressed sympathy for the "wounds" of the German people, who he said were "yesterday our enemies but who are today a vital part of the West and our common ally".

But the focus of his speech was on disarmament, and he looked forward hopefully to a summit at which PM Harold Macmillan, President Eisenhower, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and he were to discuss the possibility of detente.

France "wishes, above all, stocks of nuclear weapons to be destroyed", he told MPs and peers.

It wasn't to be: the summit was cancelled after a US spy plane was shot down over Russia.

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22 June 1965: The Queen
The Queen

Queen Elizabeth II's first speech to both Houses of Parliament - besides those at the annual state opening of Parliament ceremony - marked the 700th Anniversary of the Parliament of Simon de Montfort.

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28 April 1966: U Thant, secretary general of the UN
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9 February 1967: Soviet PM Alexei Kosygin
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28 April 1969: Italian President Giuseppe Saragat
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3 March 1970: Chancellor of West Germany Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt

Chancellor Brandt assured MPs and peers in the royal gallery of his support for the UK's application to join the European Economic Community, which he predicted would be enriched by British traditions.

French president de Gaulle had thwarted an earlier UK bid to join.

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23 June 1976: French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing
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4 May 1977: The Queen

The Queen marked her Silver Jubilee with an address to Parliament.

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8 June 1982: US President Ronald Reagan
The Queen, US President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

President Reagan rallied Parliament's support for a crusade towards global freedom and democracy that "would leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history".

But the Cold War was not the only conflict coinciding with his visit: UK troops were closing in on victory in the Falklands.

"Those young men are not fighting for mere real estate," the president reminded MPs and peers in the royal gallery.

"They fight for a cause, for the belief that armed aggression must not be allowed to succeed, and that people must participate in the decisions of government under the rule of law."

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24 October 1984: French President Francois Mitterrand
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18 December 1984: Future General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher

After meeting communist chief Mikhail Gorbachev at Chequers, then Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher declared: "I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together."

The future Soviet leader went on to address an informal meeting of MPs and peers, declaring: "For all that separates us, we have one planet and Europe is our common home, not a theatre of operations."

But his remarks became less diplomatic after Conservative former minister Norman St John-Stevas asked him about Soviet oppression of religion.

"I could quote a few facts about human rights in the UK," he said. "You persecute entire communities and nationalities. You have got 2.3 million unemployed."

The Times reported that one MP later joked he wished unemployment was as low as that.

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23 January 1986: Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Peres
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28 April 1986: King of Spain Juan Carlos
Juan Carlos, King of Spain
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2 July 1986: President of West Germany Richard Von Weizsäcker
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20 July 1988: The Queen

The Queen marked the tercentenary of the Revolution of 1688-89 and the Bill of Rights with another speech to MPs and peers.

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08 May 1989: President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega
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24 October 1990: Italian President Francesco Cossiga
Francesco Cossiga

The Christian Democratic party's Francesco Cossiga used his address to MPs and peers in the royal gallery to "take Margaret Thatcher to task", according to the Times.

She was due to attend a European summit in Rome four days later, and President Cossiga urged her to adopt a "more idealistic approach" to the European Community, the paper added.

His advocacy was apparently unpersuasive. After the Rome summit, PM Thatcher reported back to MPs that she had not taken kindly to federalist Commission President Jacques Delors' aim to make the European Parliament the most powerful democratic institution in Europe, with the Commission working as the executive and the Council of Ministers acting as the senate.

"No! No! No!" she declared.

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10 November 1992: President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin
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28 April 1993: President of Portugal Mario Soares
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5 May 1993: Nelson Mandela
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7 December 1993: Mikhail Gorbachev
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6 May 1995: The Queen

The Queen marked the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day with a speech to MPs and peers.

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29 November 1995: US President Bill Clinton
John Major and Bill Clinton

PM Sir John Major "appeared overcome with emotion" as President Clinton paid tribute to the Conservative's "peacemaking role and spoke of a Northern Ireland where 'the guns are quiet and the children play without fear'," according to the Daily Mail's coverage of his speech to MPs and peers.

"I applaud the prime minister for taking this risk for peace," he had said.

"It is always a hard choice, the choice for peace, for success is far from guaranteed, and even if you fail, there will be those who resent you for trying. But it is the right thing to do. And in the end, the right will win."

The Scotsman tried valiantly to resist the famously charismatic Clinton, describing him as a "purveyor of folksy pieces of meaningless wisdom".

"Mr Clinton said: 'The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.' True, but what does it mean?" the paper commented, before succumbing.

"In spite of the simplicity and embarrassingly cliched nature of most of it, it was a good speech," it reported.

"It was refreshing to hear someone speak of high principles... Mr Clinton got away with it, not only because it was novel but because his delivery was superb."

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15 May 1996: French President Jacques Chirac
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11 July 1996: President of South Africa Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela's speech in full

In his second speech to MPs and peers, President Mandela paid tribute to anti-apartheid British politicians.

Labour peer Lord Brockway "was as concerned about our liberty as he was about the independence of India", he said.

He also recalled ex-Conservative PM Harold Macmillan's historic visit to Cape Town in 1960 and his historic speech declaring: "The wind of change is blowing through this country."

"Let our peoples," the president concluded, "join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brother's keeper."

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16 July 1996: The Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama

In an informal meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on Tibet, the Dalai Lama urged the UK to exert influence on China.

"The reality today is that Tibet is an occupied country under colonial rule. This is the essential issue which must be addressed and resolved through negotiations," he told MPs and peers.

"Tibet - an ancient nation with a unique culture and civilisation - is disappearing fast. In endeavouring to protect my nation from this catastrophe, I have always sought to be guided by realism, moderation and patience.

"However, it has now become clear that our efforts alone are not sufficient to bring the Chinese government to the negotiating table."

According to the Independent, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman responded: "By inviting the Dalai Lama to visit Britain and offering him a forum, the Tibetan group of the British House of Commons abets the Dalai's action to split the motherland. It will bring about adverse effects to the Sino-British relations."

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29 October 1998: Argentine President Carlos Menem
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6 July 2000: Prime Minister of Australia John Howard
John Howard

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Australian federation, PM John Howard addressed MPs and peers in the royal gallery with "a graceful speech saying what a great place Australia was", according to the Guardian's Simon Hoggart.

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30 April 2002: The Queen
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8 May 2007: Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan
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15 May 2007: Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair

"Let us consign arguments over the past to the annals of the past, as we make history instead of being doomed to repeat it," said Bertie Ahern, the first Irish Taoiseach to address both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Ahern may have been "lacking in suave elegance," reported the Independent, "but as usual that was more than made up for by his evident abilities and all-round political competence."

Labour PM Tony Blair described him as "a true friend of the British people, a man who is changing the history of his own country and of these islands".

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26 March 2008: French President Nicolas Sarkozy
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19 November 2008: Israeli President Shimon Peres
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1 April 2009: President of Mexico Felipe Calderon Hinojosa
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17 September 2010: Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI en route to Parliament

The Pope warned MPs and peers in Westminster Hall that religion - and Christianity in particular - was "being marginalised" around the world.

"There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere," he said.

"There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none."

BBC correspondent Peter Hunt described the speech at Westminster Hall as "a rallying call, and a plea - for religion not to be squeezed out by secular society".

Two and a half years later, Benedict XVI became the first pope in centuries to resign.

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25 May 2011: US President Barack Obama

President Obama's speech in full

The UK and US were at a "pivotal moment" in their relationship and "profound challenges" lay ahead, US President Barack Obama told MPs and peers in his Westminster Hall speech.

He praised the role of the UK in spreading the ideals of democracy around the world, quoting Sir Winston Churchill, who said the Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, trial by jury and common law "find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence".

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20 March 2012: The Queen

Highlights of the Queen's visit to Parliament

The Queen said she would rededicate herself to the service of the UK and its people as she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.

She told MPs and peers in Westminster Hall that the commemoration of her 60 years on the throne was a chance "to come together in a spirit of neighbourliness and celebration".

The Queen also praised Prince Philip for being "a constant strength and guide" over the decades.

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21 June 2012: Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi's speech in full

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the UK to support the shift towards democracy in Burma in her historic address to both Houses of Parliament.

"My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached," she said.

"Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further."

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20 March 2013: President of Malawi Joyce Banda
Malawi President Joyce Banda
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13 June 2013: Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper
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5 November 2013: South Korean President Park Geun-hye

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Politics Live

  1.  
    23:59: Recap of today's events

    That's pretty much it for this evening, and it has been an exceptionally busy day with party leaders from across the political divide coming together to voice their opinion on the saga of the TV election debates - which have dominated Thursday's headlines. Before we go, here's quick recap of today's events:

    That's it for tonight folks, we'll be back with all the news, reaction and analysis to the big political stories of the day from 06:00 GMT tomorrow.

     
  2.  
    23:39: QT - A&E missed targets

    Ruth Davidson - leader of the Scottish Conservatives - said the NHS is dealing with more people and that has created a strain on the system. But Labour's Kezia Dugdale argues that funding is the issue, she says "we want to tax people who have mansions worth £2m and use the money to get more nurses in Scotland".

     
  3.  
    23:21: QT - SNP and Labour deal?

    Journalist Toby Young says the reason Ed Miliband has not ruled out doing a deal with the SNP is because "it's his best chance of becoming prime minister". "He is desperate to be PM," he exclaims. But deputy leader of Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, says it was more about respecting what the voters say and then working out what government would be formed rather than "making deals in smoke-filled rooms".

     
  4.  
    #bbcqt 23:06: QT - SNP popularity

    A large part of the Question Time debate tonight has focused on the strength of the SNP in Scotland, in light of a recent poll which shows that the party's popularity is growing. Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, is met with groans from the audience when she suggests that the polls are good news for the Tories because a vote for the SNP will help the Conservatives and hinder Labour. The audience claps when MSP for Glasgow Humza Yousaf - who is a member of the SNP - says that "it's not a case of the people abandoning Labour it's Labour abandoning the people". He describes the Scottish Labour party as the "right side of the Tories and the wrong side of the Scottish people".

     
  5.  
    22:58: Shapps on debates BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30

    Tory chairman Grant Shapps appears on Newsnight to say that he believes the broadcasters have had more than enough time to sort the issue of the TV debates. "The whole thing has not been covered with glory," he says. When specifically asked Mr Shapps says that Mr Cameron does want to debate with Mr Miliband one-to-one , and "he does so every week" in PMQs.

     
  6.  
    #bbcqt 22:54: Question Time - TV debates

    TV debates and whether they should or shouldn't happen is unsurprisingly the first question from an audience member during Question Time. Ruth Davidson - leader of the Scottish Conservatives - describes the situation as a "complete horlicks from start to finish", while Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Liberal Democrat, Danny Alexander, says David Cameron needs to "man up and get involved in the debates" and describes the prime minister as "not very impressive". And this is a view shared by Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, who says that Cameron is "just playing chicken". But MSP for Glasgow Humza Yousaf said that the reason Mr Cameron didn't want to have a TV debate and defend his government's record was because of the amount of people his government had put into poverty.

     
  7.  
    22:44: BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30

    Pub landlady Helen Ellwood from Macclesfield appears on Newsnight to say that she was in the audience during the 2010 TV debates and she described them as "enlightening". She urges David Cameron to think again.

     
  8.  
    22:37: Major on a Labour/SNP power share The Daily Telegraph

    Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has urged Ed Miliband to rule out governing with the SNP in order to protect the UK. The ex-Tory leader said the nationalists would enter any deal with the "overriding aim" of "prising apart" the union. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Sir John said he was speaking as "an Englishman with a profound admiration and respect for Scotland". He argued it was "shameful" that Labour have not already ruled out a power-sharing deal.

     
  9.  
    #tomorrowspaperstoday #bbcpapers 22:26: Friday's Daily Mail front page
    Daily Mail
     
  10.  
    #bbcpapers #tomorrowspaperstoday 22:23: Friday's FT front page
    FT
     
  11.  
    22:22: Friday's Guardian front page
    Guardian
     
  12.  
    #bbcpapers 22:17: Metro front page
    Metro
     
  13.  
    #tomorrowspaperstoday #bbcpapers 22:12: Friday's Daily Mirror front page
    Daily Mirror
     
  14.  
    #tomorrowspaperstoday #bbcpapers 22:10: Friday's i front page
    I front page
     
  15.  
    #tomorrowspaperstoday #bbcpapers 22:02: Telegraph front page
    Daily Telegraph
     
  16.  
    21:57: Budget video - It's a rap

    Looking ahead for a second George Osborne is set to announce his budget later this month (18 March). To rouse a bit of excitement about the issue Sky News have produced a video which, believe it or not, features politicians rapping.

     
  17.  
    @bbclaurak 21:34: Laura Kuenssberg - BBC chief correspondent and Newsnight presenter

    Tweets: Labour wants to 'teach the Muslim community a lesson for voting for Galloway' - ouch! the shambles of Lab's Bradford selection on #newsnight

     
  18.  
    @David_Cameron 21:27: David Cameron - PM

    Tweets: #HelpToBuy is helping families achieve their dream of owning their own home. My video from Cannock Chase

     
  19.  
    21:19: 'No one to blame'

    Over at conservativehome.com Paul Goodman has written a piece on the TV election debate saga, and argues that the broadcasters have "no-one to blame but themselves".

     
  20.  
    #tomorrowspaperstoday #bbcpapers 21:06: Friday's Morning Star front page
    Morning Star
     
  21.  
    @bbcquestiontime 20:42: Question Time

    Tweets: So we gave our panel in Glasgow a #selfiestick .... #bbcqt

    Question Time panel
     
  22.  
    20:31: Umunna interview

    Bit more on the Chuka Umunna interview with House magazine. In it Mr Umunna says he backs radical devolution, including the principle of the Manchester NHS deal, and he declares that "markets and business are a force for good", and that "business is the solution, it is not the problem". He also speaks for the first time about when he hastily left a Sky News interview after criticising presenter Dermot Murnaghan for asking him questions about Eric Pickles' letter to mosques in the UK - which he had not read yet.

     
  23.  
    @BBCJLandale James Landale - BBC deputy political editor

    Tweets: That TV election debate story in full:

    2,3,4

    7,7,2

    1

    =

    0?

     
  24.  
    20:08: Chuka Umunna on business
     Chuka Umunna

    Senior Labour frontbencher Chuka Umunna has said that business should be seen as a "force for good". The shadow business secretary said that a thriving commercial sector was the key to lifting people out of poverty. In an interview with Parliament's The House magazine, he warned that any discussion about greater fairness was "pretty academic" without firms generating profits, jobs and growth.

     
  25.  
    #bbcqt 19:55: Question Time tonight

    For those political junkies out there Question Time will be aired tonight (22:45GMT) on BBC 1. The programme is in Glasgow this evening - here who's on the panel:

    Question Time
     
  26.  
    19:33: Fancy taking part in a debate about health?

    Do you want to talk to senior politicians live on TV and tell them what they need to do to win your vote? Victoria Derbyshire is holding a series of big debates during the general election. If you would like to take part in a debate, get in touch (see picture below).

    Victoria Derbyshire
     
  27.  
    @PHammondMP Philip Hammond - Foreign Secretary

    Tweets: Positive talks with President @Poroshenko re situation on ground, #Minsk agreement & reform. Reaffirmed strong UK support for #Ukraine.

     
  28.  
    18:49: Video footage of Farage on TV debates

    For those who missed what UKIP leader Nigel Farage said earlier about the TV election debates, here's a video clip. He urged the broadcasters to "call Mr Cameron's bluff".

     
  29.  
    @GraemeDemianyk Graeme Demianyk - London editor of Western Morning News

    Tweets: You can't fault Clegg's enthusiasm for a photocall. Here at Gweek Seal Sanctuary in Cornwall

    Nick Clegg
     
  30.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith - Assistant political editor

    Tweets: BBC Trust say decision to bar DUP from #tvdebates not a breach of European Convention on Human Rights

     
  31.  
    18:13: More from Dodds

    Here's a bit more from Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, on the recent news that the party's appeal to be included in the TV debates has been rejected by the BBC Trust.

    He said: "The broadcasters really have a big question to ask of themselves now, having made a complete mess of this, and in my view this means that from now on in we should have an independent commissioner or such like looking after these events, the broadcasters and politicians should be left out of it."

     
  32.  
    18:03: 'Wrong and unjust' BBC News Channel
    Nigel Dodds,

    Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, has told BBC News the BBC Trust's decision to exclude the party from the TV debates "defies belief". He said it was "wrong, irrational and unjust".

     
  33.  
    17:52: Analysis Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor
    Norman Smith

    "I think potentially this could be another nail in the coffin of the television debates. The DUP have made very clear they believe they have a cast iron legal case to seek a judicial review challenging the BBC's decision, and potentially bring these TV debates to a grinding halt. The BBC Trust take the view that they are perfectly entitled to exclude the DUP from these debates because Northern Ireland is a distinct political landscape, different to Wales, England and Scotland. The BBC too are concerned that if the DUP were allowed into these debates, then they would have had to allow Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the debates would have just become unwieldy and totally unmanageable."

     
  34.  
    17:49: BBC Radio 4

    On PM, Roger Mosey, the former editorial director of the BBC, says the broadcasters should "stand firm" in the row over the election TV debates. He supports Nick Clegg's offer to debate against Ed Miliband in place of David Cameron. But ex-Conservative MP Tim Collins thinks that clash would attract few viewers and doubts it would "do either party much good".

     
  35.  
    17:35: DUP appeal rejection

    The BBC Trust has rejected the Democratic Unionist Party's appeal to take part in the TV election debates. The move is now likely to trigger a judicial review by the DUP over their exclusion from the debates. A DUP spokesman described the decision by the BBC Trust as "a farce".

     
  36.  
    17:27: YouGov reaction to TV debates
    Joe Twyman

    YouGov spokesman Joe Twyman said: "A lot of people want debates, over three quarters of the population say they would like to see them in this election. But if they didn't take place would it actually make a difference? I imagine probably not, particularly if the decision was made now in the next couple of weeks it would probably be forgotten by the time the campaign came round, because the party machines would just get on with it."

    He conceded that the TV debates would only influence public opinion severely if one of the parties made it into a campaign theme, and the issue gained more momentum. But even then he warned: "The blame game will fly in every possible direction and it's unlikely to stick on one particularly person even though it's very clear David Cameron does not want these debates in a million years."

     
  37.  
    17:14: Tea towel politics Brian Wheeler Political reporter
    Labour tea towels Labour aims to clean-up with its vintage tea towel offer

    Is Ben Elton sending you emails? You must be on a Labour Party database. All the parties are using tricks learned from direct marketing to sell merchandise - including novelty tea towels and fridge magnets - and raise funds. I cast an eye over the best and worst efforts in this piece.

     
  38.  
    17:03: Ban on MPs' dinner expenses

    MPs will be banned from claiming expenses for dinners, TV licences and pre-23:00 taxis after the general election - even if their 10% pay hike does not go ahead. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) proposed a raft of curbs to perks in 2013 as part of a wider package that included salaries rising from £67,000 to £74,000. But the watchdog has now confirmed that politicians' expenses will be cut from 8 May, even though the pay rise is still subject to review and David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have signalled they may block it.

     
  39.  
    16:49: 'Farage is a feminist issue' House of Lords Parliament
    Baroness Crawley

    Across in the House of Lords a debate is ongoing about women's economic empowerment. Baroness Crawley - the former chairwoman of the Women's National Commission, and now Labour peer - has focused on how it might be affected if the UK were to leave the EU, and she warns that "Farage is a feminist issue". She argues that leaving the EU would hurt women's economic empowerment. "The EU is not only the UK's largest economic market, it's also the union that helped establish standards for working men and women for their rights at work," she tells peers. "I would not want to see women in the UK miss out on future rights for work by leaving the European Union."

     
  40.  
    16:36: More from SNP on TV debates
    Stuart Hosie

    Deputy leader of the SNP Stewart Hosie said: "What David Cameron is doing is giving a very good impression of actually running scared from having his record held up to scrutiny." He adds: "What we cannot have is one politician - however important - dictating the terms of the debates for everyone else."

     
  41.  
    16:24: TV debate reaction
    Ian Birrell

    Ian Birrell, a former speech writer for David Cameron, said: "I'm not sure how much the public - while I think they like debates and enjoyed them last time - I'm not sure how big a deal it is compared to schools and hospitals and the state of the economy."

    He also said he believed the previous TV debates in the 2010 "distorted" the last election campaign, and he added it would be a "big call" for the BBC to challenge the prime minister by empty chairing him.

     
  42.  
    16:10: More should be done to recruit female spies - MPs say

    UK intelligence needs to do more to recruit middle-aged women and mothers to be spies, such as by using the website Mumsnet, MPs say. In a report, the Intelligence and Security Committee said such women were an "untapped recruitment pool" for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It said more than half of the civil service were women, but the figure was 37% in the intelligence agencies. Hazel Blears, the Labour MP who led the report, called for a culture change. Read the full story here.

     
  43.  
    16:00: Changing of the guard

    It's been a busy day so far with reaction to David Cameron's decision to only take part in one TV debate before the election. At this point, Nick Eardley is signing out for the afternoon, but Dominic Howell will be here until midnight with the latest political news and analysis.

     
  44.  
    15:44: David Cameron 'feart'
    Nicola Sturgeon

    "David Cameron is feart" of the TV debates, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC's Glenn Campbell. She says Mr Cameron is "running scared of the public" and that broadcasters should call his bluff and empty chair the prime minister if he doesn't turn up. Ms Sturgeon says she will debate any time, anywhere.

     
  45.  
    15:36: Foreign aid
    Steven Stanbury

    On Daily Politics earlier, UKIP's general secretary Steven Stanbury discussed how the party would spend money currently earmarked for foreign aid. You can watch his package, in which he argues there is a seismic disconnect between political priorities and public opinion, here. His party wants to cut foreign aid by 75% and spend the money in local services.

     
  46.  
    15:24: 'Democracy will suffer' BBC News Channel
    Katie Ghose

    Katie Ghose, chief executive of the electoral reform society, is the latest to speak about the TV debates. She says the "time for squabbling and tactical manoeuvres" is over, adding that it is voters who will feel let down and democracy that will suffer if the debates do not go ahead. "It's an important part of the mix for millions of people... to have that special opportunity to hear directly from all the party leaders who may have influence or leadership in the next government," she tells BBC News.

     
  47.  
    15:21: 'Lofty disdain' from Tories - Clegg
    Nick Clegg

    Nick Clegg has accused the Tories of behaving with "lofty disdain" over the TV debates. He said his coalition partners were acting as though "they were ordering a drink in a drawing room of Downton Abbey, declaring that they deign to a participate in one debate". He added that it was "no way to treat the British people". And he reiterated his challenge to broadcasters to give him David Cameron's place so Ed Miliband can scrutinise the government's record.

     
  48.  
    15:04: Clegg in Cornwall
    Steve Gilbert

    The Western Morning News is covering Nick Clegg's visit to Cornwall, where the Lib Dem leader has been promoting his plans to offer a Cornish Assembly which would get new powers over local services. Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay, tells the paper: "A central plank of my political belief is that democracy should be opened up to our communities and powers devolved from Whitehall to Cornwall."

     
  49.  
    14:56: 'No Englishman can understand a Welshman' House of Commons Parliament

    Opening a Welsh affairs debate in the Chamber, Glyn Davies, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, quotes Megan Lloyd George, the daughter of former Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who said that "no Englishman can understand a Welshman".

    Megan Lloyd George became the first woman MP in Wales when she won the Anglesey seat for the Liberal Party in 1929. She later became a Labour MP.

    Megan Lloyd George
     
  50.  
    14:51: Broadcasters 'could empty chair PM'
    Steve Richard

    Steve Richards (mentioned in previous entry see 14:44 GMT) also said it was possible broadcasters will "empty chair" David Cameron - hosting the debates even if he doesn't turn up. "Some of them are saying that that will happen, but they will be farcical frankly", he says. "If you haven't got one of the two potential prime ministers in any of the debates... they become pretty dire to watch".

     
  51.  
    14:45: Portraits of female MPs 'should be hung in palace'

    Portraits of famous female parliamentarians should be hung in prominent places around the historic Palace of Westminster after the election, a former women's minister has told the House of Commons. Maria Miller urged a redressing of the balance in the palace, and Speaker John Bercow said he would be an enthusiastic supporter of such a change. Labour MP Emily Thornberry made the case for suffragette Emily Wilding Davison to be added to any list of MPs displayed.

     
  52.  
    14:44: TV debates
    Steve Richard

    Steve Richards from the Independent says he doubts any debates will take place. He says the debate proposed would be "farcical" - as would any smaller debate without the prime minister. He says he doesn't blame Mr Cameron for his decision, however. "He is going to take hit today, but I think he had more to lose from a one-to-one with Ed Miliband than Ed Miliband would ever have to lose."

     
  53.  
    politics@bbc.co.uk @bbcpolitics 14:39: Get involved Nick Eardley BBC News

    The TV debates have generated significant interest among BBC News readers today. There are more than 1,700 comments on our story about David Cameron's TV debates stance. The highest rated is one reader questioning whether The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will come up in the debates (if they happen). You can read more about what TTIP is here. The second asks when we will we stop debating debates and start talking about policy instead. And the third highest rated asks: "Who cares how slick and smarmy they appear, voting should be based on the manifesto not appearances, sharp suits and how photogenic they appear."

    A number of contributors suggest David Cameron should be "empty chaired" if he doesn't want to take part. Other says the debates wouldn't tell us much, so aren't much of a loss. You can add your comments or email us politics@bbc.co.uk or via social media @bbcpolitics. We'll continue to feature your views over the course of the afternoon.

     
  54.  
    14:28: 'UKIP won't win enough seats' The Daily Telegraph

    Earlier, Nigel Farage told Loose Women on ITV that he expects the number of MPs his party has after the election to be in "double figures". On the Telegraph website, James Kirkup argues that the number the party will end up with won't be enough. More here.

     
  55.  
    @daily_politics BBC Daily Politics

    tweets: 'Chaos and confusion' from broadcasters over #ge2015 TV debates, @grantshapps tells @afneil in #bbcdp clip

     
  56.  
    14:16: Cameron demands 'can't be met' New Statesman

    Over on The New Statesman, Stephen Bush is the latest to have his say on the TV debates. The proposal made by David Cameron, he says, appears reasonable at first glance. However, he argues "they're carefully designed to ensure that the Prime Minister's requests can't be met, and to prevent the debates from happening." More here.

     
  57.  
    @jameschappers James Chapman, Daily Mail political editor

    Tweets: #tvdebates debacle illustrates need for UK equivalent of US Commission on Presidential Debates if they happen in future campaigns

     
  58.  
    13:59: 'Impossible to exclude SNP'

    More on the SNP's strong showing in the opinion polls. Polling expert John Curtice says that given Labour and Conservatives are "virtually neck and neck" at the moment, it looks like it is going to be "impossible after 7 May to form a government without at least the acquiescence of the SNP". What does this mean? Not only has the SNP ruled out making David Cameron prime minister, but their policy demands on matters like Trident and austerity would also be tricky for Labour, he says. This raises questions about how easy it will be for anyone to form a stable government after the election, he adds.

     
  59.  
    13:49: SNP 'tide rising'
    John Curtice

    Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, has been discussing polls that suggested the SNP could win the safest Labour seat in Scotland at the general election. The results largely confirm what many pundits had been saying about the Scottish vote, he says, adding: "The truth is the SNP tide is rising by about 25 points in just about every constituency in Scotland."

     
  60.  
    13:37: Shapps V Powell continued The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Asked how voters will be able to judge Mr Cameron if the debate takes place before the Conservative manifesto is published, Grant Shapps says "people will have a pretty good idea by the end of this month what the different parties want to do". Lucy Powell says Ed Miliband would turn up to the "head-to-head" debate alone, but says he does not want to.

     
  61.  
    13:32: Shapps V Powell The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Back on the TV debates, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps blames the broadcasters, saying they have had five years to sort out arrangements. But Labour's Lucy Powell David Cameron is being "hypocritical", having advocated debates in the past.

     
  62.  
    13:32: Prof on 2010 TV debates The World at One BBC Radio 4

    On the World at One, professor of political communications Stephen Coleman, of Leeds University, says the last TV debates, in 2010, were "remarkably popular". Two thirds of people surveyed afterwards said they had learned something new, while 87% had discussed them with other people, he says. Prof Coleman says people will not be impressed by David Cameron's "final offer", saying they see it as "kind of part of the constitution now".

     
  63.  
    13:25: Farage: UKIP will win double figures

    How many seats will UKIP win at the election, he is asked at the end of his interview on ITV's Loose Women. Nigel Farage says it will be in double figures

     
  64.  
    13:24: Farage: Selfish politicians

    Asked is it all worth it - getting up at 5am and not getting home before midnight - Nigel Farage says you've got to be fairly selfish to get into politics.

     
  65.  
    13:22: 'Fit as a flea'

    "It is really vile" Mr Farage says of the way some politicians are treated by the media. He says he decided to take some time out at the start of the year, but repeats that he is "fit as a flea". He only spends a few hours in the pub each day, he jokes. But his drinking and smoking are "what I actually do", he adds.

     
  66.  
    13:22: TV debates: The numbers

    Away from the political fallout from David Cameron's TV debates ultimatum, the BBC's head of statistics Anthony Reuben has been looking at other multi-leader contests around the world - and how much time might be left for each person to speak.

    Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood
     
  67.  
    13:21: Farage on deals

    UKIP is not going to win the election, but will win a "number of MPs". He suggests the party might be in the same position the Lib Dems were in 2010 and says he'll get a much better deal for his party. Asked if he wants to be deputy prime minister, Mr Farage says on Loose Women it's not what he wants to do.

     
  68.  
    13:20: 'Radically change' politics

    Nigel Farage says his life has been "pretty up and down" since he went to school. He says he wants to "radically change" politics - the gap between the wealthy and the rest is getting bigger every year and he wants to address that.

     
  69.  
    13:19: Pic: Farage on Loose Women
    Nigel Farage

    UKIP leader Nigel Farage has just been asked, tongue-in-cheek, on ITV's Loose Women about his "self esteem issues". That got the biggest laugh from the studio audience so far.

     
  70.  
    13:16: Farage on immigration

    Nigel Farage says he wants to ask David Cameron about immigration and how the Conservative leader thinks it can be controlled without leaving the EU at the TV debates. He tells the ITV programme he wants an end to "unskilled" workers coming to the UK.

     
  71.  
    13:14: Farage on debates

    On Loose Women, Nigel Farage says he believes David Cameron is trying to sabotage the TV debate process.

     
  72.  
    13:04: Farage on Loose Women

    Nigel Farage is on Loose Women on ITV soon. At the moment, they're showing him outside having a cigarette and a coffee. The UKIP leader has already tweeted to say he is more nervous than normal.

     
  73.  
    12:59: Grant Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    The interview with Tory chairman Grant Shapps on the TV debates is up on our website now. You can watch it here.

     
  74.  
    12:53: Cameron's 'shrewd politics' The Daily Telegraph

    Over on The Daily Telegraph, Rupert Myers has also been analysing the TV debates fall-out. He says David Cameron's decision to only agree to one debate is "shrewd politics". He writes: "Right now, perhaps the greatest electoral asset the Conservatives have is the gulf of public respect and confidence which exists between Cameron and Miliband. A series of TV debates would imperil that advantage."

     
  75.  
    12:49: Broadcasters have 'messed up' The Spectator

    David Cameron's communications director Craig Oliver criticised the broadcasters "deeply unsatisfactory process" for organising the pre-election TV debates in his letter last night. Today, Isabel Hardman has written a piece for The Spectator saying he has a point. She writes: "Though the prime minister is ducking out of them for the selfish reasons outlined here, the blame must ultimately lie with the broadcasters for making it possible for him to do so. They have managed to mess up at every stage of the process."

     
  76.  
    @Nigel_Farage Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

    tweets: I'm about to go on @loosewomen. Slightly more nervous about this panel than I usually am!

     
  77.  
    @BBCWorldatOne World at One

    tweets: Is the PM "running scared" or "unblocking the logjam"? We'll talk TV debates with @grantshapps & @LucyMPowell #wato

     
  78.  
    12:37: Campaigning and babies
    David Cameron

    David Cameron was speaking just now about TV debates during a visit to promote housebuilding policies. It was also a first for Politics Live - the first chance to use a fresh pic of a politician cooing over a baby. We're pretty sure there'll be plenty more to come over the weeks ahead.

     
  79.  
    12:35: Paul Flynn on 'worst ever' PMQs Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Daily politics

    Labour MP Paul Flynn said yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions was "the worst ever" and suggested scrapping the weekly session. He tells Daily Politics there is nothing new about prime ministers not answering questions, but says there is often no connection between the question and the answer now. It drags politics into "further disrepute", Mr Flynn says. He doesn't believed the session can now be reformed and wants a whole new system. Andrew Percy says it's a "pretty unedifying" spectacle but that it serves a purpose, particularly for constituency issues.

     
  80.  
    12:32: Lord Adonis on Scotland

    The Daily Politics is now discussing Labour in Scotland and recent polls suggesting the party could lose most of its seats. Lord Adonis says there is a long way to go in the campaign, telling the programme it is clear that opinion in Scotland is "volatile". Jim Murphy is doing a great job of re-energising the party, he adds. He won't be drawn on whether Labour should rule out of a deal with the SNP before the election.

     
  81.  
    12:31: Polly Toynbee on debates The Guardian

    If Miliband is so weak, why is Cameron so afraid of debating with him? That's the question Polly Toynbee is asking over on the Guardian site today. You can read her thoughts here.

     
  82.  
    @loosewomen Loose Women

    tweets: On today's show: @UKIP leader @Nigel_Farage takes on our women, plus comedian @RealMattLucas will be joining us too! #Elections2015

     
  83.  
    12:20: 'Host debates anyway' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Finally on TV debates on Daily Politics, Labour peer Lord Adonis says the broadcasters should go ahead regardless of David Cameron's views. He suggests the prime minister will be forced to take part if that happens.

     
  84.  
    12:19: 'Workable plan' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    The prime minister's debate plan is "completely workable", says Grant Shapps. Labour peer Lord Adonis says most members of the public think the 2010 debates changed things in terms of TV debates becoming a fixture of UK elections. "To turn the clock back" was a "disservice" to the public, he adds.

     
  85.  
    12:19: Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    We've run out of time, Grant Shapps says, to hold the debates as planned by the broadcasters. Let's get the parties in and have a debate just before the election campaign proper, he adds. And he denies the claim his party wanted to avoid the debates at all costs.

     
  86.  
    12:17: Cameron on debates
    David Cameron

    If the debates are held during the campaign people won't talk about anything else - such as the issues that matter, Mr Cameron says. He adds that he has said for the past three years that the debates should take place before the campaign proper begins.

     
  87.  
    12:14: Breaking News

    David Cameron says he wants there to be a TV debate. He says that rather than trying to avoid a debate, he is trying to "unblock the logjam" that the "broadcasters helped to create", so "let's get on, let's have the debate that matters the most". By putting this proposal forward, he says, "we'll actually see one take place".

     
  88.  
    12:11: Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Grant Shapps

    Grant Shapps says the approach to debates has been messy. The debates at the last election sucked the life out of the campaign, he adds. There is still no clear sense of what broadcasters want, the Tory chairman adds.

     
  89.  
    12:09: 'Chaos and confusion' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, says there has been "chaos and confusion" over TV debates. He says "lots of people" haven't accepted the proposals.

     
  90.  
    12:05: Ed Miliband on Scotland

    During his earlier interview Mr Miliband was also asked about Scotland and polling which shows his party could lose a number of previously safe seats. The Labour leader said "the fight is on" in Scotland. He added: "I hope people who want to see the back of the Conservatives in Scotland will vote Labour."

     
  91.  
    12:04: Scottish FMQs

    In Scotland, First Minister's questions is under way. Follow it here.

     
  92.  
    11:53: Miliband: Cameron 'running away'
    Ed Miliband

    A bit more from Ed Miliband. He says it is "clear David Cameron is ducking the [head-to-head] debate". He adds: "He should stop ducking and weaving and name the date".

    Mr Miliband says he will take part in the seven leader debate, but continues: "We also need the debate between me and David Cameron". He says he is open to debate the prime minister at any time, in any place. And he adds that the public will no tolerate Mr Cameron "running away".

    On the possibility of a one-on-one debate with Nick Clegg, as suggested by Lord Ashdown, Mr Miliband says it is up to broadcasters.

     
  93.  
    11:47: Breaking News

    Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of "cowering from the public" over the TV debates. The Labour leader says the British public "deserves" the debate. Mr Miliband says he is ready to debate "any time, any place, anywhere - he should stop ducking and weaving".

     
  94.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith, BBC assistant political editor

    tweets: Ed Miliband accuses PM of "cowering from the public" over #tvdebates

     
  95.  
    Get involved 11:39: Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Some more comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    No meaningful mass media debate between the main party leaders? Just another example of politicians' disrespect for the population at large. They all think that the ONLY moment of accountability is at the ballot box and violently object to any other forum (unless it`s in their own particular interest).

    John Hyland

    Am I the only one who would be thankful if no debates took place at all? Televised Punch and Judy Politics can be seen every day on the news and in particular at Wednesday's Prime Ministers Questions. This is not informative nor even remotely entertaining.

    David Parker

    The problem is, the Conservative party have backed themselves into a corner. They have been banging on for the last few years how weak a candidate Ed Miliband has been and it's come back to haunt them.

    Expectations of Ed are so low, even an even debate would be a landslide victory for the Labour Party. From the Conservative point of view, it doesn't really make sense to give Labour the platform, where the best they could do is break even.

    Nicholas Williams

    It seems unlikely that any of the party leaders will win a majority in May. They are going to have to work together for the common good of an electorate tired of their silly and destructive adversarial politics.

    Let's make a reality TV show instead. It might be interesting if all the party leaders were shut in a plush stately home with plenty of TV cameras and given a task or do - agree a plan to build an environmentally sustainable economy in the UK would be a good one. There are many more tasks like that to be tackled.

    It would be tempting to make them stay in there until they agreed. In the real world we all need politicians to work together for the common good - something else they would have to agree on.

    It might even make good television. It is what Parliament needs to become after 7 May.

    Simon Court

     
  96.  
    @daily_politics BBC Daily Politics

    tweets: 'Britain now gives away an eye-watering £12bn a year' in foreign aid, says @StanburySteven in his film for Thu #bbcdp

     
  97.  
    11:37: TV debates: Lessons from history Brian Wheeler Political reporter
    John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960

    Nothing gets TV executives salivating - and political leaders quaking - like a live televised debate. Beneath the glare of the studio lights, a politician is at his most exposed. One stumble, a flash of anger, an inappropriate joke, a memory lapse or just a failure to bring your "A Game", and the whole shooting match can be over. The fate of nations sometimes hang in the balance. But the lessons are still there to be learned....

     
  98.  
    11:33: Where do we stand on the TV debates?

    Here's what the main players are saying:

    • David Cameron will only take part in one debate, his communications chief Craig Oliver has said. That debate must feature at least seven leaders and must be held this month. Mr Craig also criticised the "deeply unsatisfactory process" of organising the debates
    • Labour aren't happy. Alastair Campbell has accused Mr Cameron of making "pathetic excuses" to avoid the debates, which he says the prime minister is scared of losing
    • Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has offered to take Mr Cameron's place in the one-on-one debates. He says he would be happy to defend the government's record
    • But Lucy Powell, vice chair of Labour's election campaign, says the head-to-head should be between those who could be prime minister after 7 May
    • SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the prime minister is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence"
    • A UKIP spokesman says Mr Cameron is "acting chicken"
    • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says Mr Cameron's behaviour is "unacceptable and arrogant"
    • The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcaster have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold the debates
    • Publically, the broadcasters have said very little. But privately, they seem determined not to buckle, says our assistant political editor Norman Smith
     
  99.  
    11:27: No 10's briefing for political reporters Ben Wright Political correspondent, BBC News

    On TV debates the PM's spokesman referred all questions back to Director of Communications Craig Oliver's letter of last night. Asked if David Cameron was running scared the spokesman said "that is not a premise I would accept".

     
  100.  
    11:23: Shapps on Daily Politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by former Labour minister Andrew Adonis as guest of the day. Conservative chairman Grant Shapps will be talking TV debates. MPs Paul Flynn and Andrew Percy will debate whether PMQs should be abolished, while a film from Giles Dilnot looks at civilian use of drones after a parliamentary report on the issue. And they will be looking at party names after the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party was told by the Electoral Commission that its moniker was "describing women as a sexual object in a demeaning way and would cause offence if it were to appear on ballot paper". You can watch the programme live from 1200-1300, or later, on the Live Coverage tab on this page (if you're reading this on the BBC app, to watch the it live you have to click here and open the page in a browser)

     

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