London: Plans for televised debates between Britain`s main party leaders on Wednesday collapsed into chaos after Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed the broadcasters` plans, barely two months before the general election
The Conservative leader said he would only take part in one live broadcast contest involving at least seven party leaders, rejecting a head-to-head debate with opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband.
His office said this was a "final offer" after months of discussions with the four main broadcasters over the format, and was intended to "cut through this chaotic situation".
But Labour and the Scottish National Party accused him of "running scared", while the UK Independence Party said Cameron was "acting chicken".
In a letter to the team organising debates on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky channels, Cameron`s director of communications Craig Oliver set out the premier`s terms.
He will take part in "one 90-minute debate" during the week beginning March 23 involving Labour, the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners, the SNP, UKIP, the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru and the Green party.
The broadcasters had proposed two seven-way debates followed by one head-to-head with Labour leader Ed Miliband on April 30, just days before the May 7 poll.
"This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the prime minister will not be participating in more than one debate," Oliver said.
The broadcasters said they would respond to the proposal in "due course", but Cameron`s opponents accused him of being a coward, noting his strong support for television debates before he was elected.
"What on earth is he frightened of?" Cameron had asked Labour prime minister Gordon Brown before the 2010 election.
Former Labour communications chief Alistair Campbell told the BBC that it was "pathetic... to watch his wriggling and weaselling".
"A seven-way debate is going to be absurd, it`s going to be like a Family Fortunes for politicians. It`s got to be Ed (Miliband) against David Cameron, and David Cameron is running scared of it," he said.
A UKIP spokesman added: "After praising what a good thing debates were for democracy as late as 2014, why is David Cameron now acting chicken and running as far away from them as possible?