General Election 2010
Election debate: audience members will quiz Brown, Cameron and Clegg
Members of the public will be able to put questions to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg during the party leaders’ televised general election debates.
By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent
Published: 6:31PM GMT 02 Mar 2010
The three men will also have only 60 seconds to answer each question put to them in the unprecedented debates.
Party officials and broadcasters have revealed the ground rules for the three live TV debates, which will see direct clashes between the main party leaders during the election campaign.
There are also likely to be live debates between Cabinet ministers and their Conservative shadows after the Tories said all members of their front bench were “eager” to accept Labour challenges.
After prolonged negotiations between broadcasters and the political parties, Britain will have its first live election debates between leaders, modelled on the TV clashes that dominate US presidential elections.
During the general election campaign, there will be three 90-minute debates, the first on ITV1, the second on Sky News and the last on BBC One.
The precise locations of the events have not been decided, but the first will be in the north-west of England, the second in the south-west, and the last in the Midlands.
Half of each debate will have a theme: the first will be about domestic affairs including health and education. The second will focus on international matters. The last will concentrate on the economy.
The second half of each session will be “free debate.”
Each leader will be able to make a 60-second opening statement to each debate.
The three leaders have drawn lots to decide the order in which they speak. Mr Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, will open the first debate. Mr Brown will start the second, and Mr Cameron will open the third session.
Each debate will have an audience of roughly 200 people.
Broadcasters are expecting thousands of applications for seats in the audience. The final audience will be selected by ICM, a market research firm, according to age, race and class to make up a “demographic cross-section of the country.”
Audience members will be able to submit questions in advance, which will then be considered by a panel of senior broadcasters that will select the ones that will be put to the leaders.
The general public will also be able to submit suggested questions to each host broadcaster in advance.
All three leaders welcomed the agreement on the debates.
“I want to set out my vision for the future of this country," said Mr Brown. “I am so optimistic about this country's future that I want to debate the big issues and I want to show that we are best for jobs, for the health service, for the public services as a whole, for tackling anti-social behaviour and for dealing with the economy.”
Mr Cameron said he “relished” the chance to debate with Mr Brown. He said: “I think people have got a right to look at the people putting themselves forward as our next Prime Minister and to see the choice, then they can make up their own minds.”
Mr Clegg is thought to have the most to gain from the debates, since his party often struggles for media attention. He also welcomed the debate, saying they are “a huge opportunity to reconnect people with politics”.
Following protests from smaller parties, the BBC will also hold separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, featuring the leaders of the all parties in those nations.