Broadcasters Sky News and Channel 4 have attempted to break the logjam over televised leaders' debates in the run-up to the general election by offering to host a head-to-head clash between David Cameron and Ed Miliband on a date of the politicians' choosing.
The initiative came after Labour leader Mr Miliband issued a direct challenge to Mr Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons to commit himself to taking part in a debate already scheduled by the two broadcasters for 30 April.
Cameron failed to commit himself to the proposed date – exactly a week before the general election on 7 May – but suggested that he would be ready to debate with the Labour leader before the official start of the campaign on 30 March.
In a joint statement released later, the broadcasters said: "Sky News and Channel 4 are continuing to prepare for a head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition on April 30.
"However, in response to media inquiries following today's PMQs, we would obviously be willing to host a debate on a different day the two main party leaders could agree on."
Labour sources accused the Tories of doing everything they can behind the scenes to "scupper the negotiations and sink the debates". Since Mr Cameron backed the idea of a head-to-head debate five weeks ago, there had been no talks between Conservatives and Labour on the issue, a source revealed.
As Labour backbenchers taunted the Prime Minister for being "frit" – Margaret Thatcher's famous description of Labour MPs she thought were frightened of an election – Cameron accused Mr Miliband of "giving up" on the two seven-way debates planned by the BBC and ITV for the election campaign, which are also intended to feature leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, Greens, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party.
In the House of Commons, Miliband challenged Cameron: "The broadcasters have proposed a live head-to- head debate between the Prime Minister and me on April 30, a week before polling day.
"I will be at that debate – will you be at that debate?"
Cameron replied that they were "having a debate now" and accused Mr Miliband of failing to talk about the economy, jobs, growth or living standards, adding: "I say let's have these debates, let's get on with them before the election."
Miliband offered the chance to schedule an additional debate before the campaign officially begins, insisting: "I am very happy to agree to it."
But he added: "The broadcasters have set a date. You said the election is all about me and you but the one thing you want to avoid is a TV debate between me and you.
"I'll give you another chance: I'll be there on April 30, a debate between me and you, will you be there? Yes or no?"
In response to a later question from Labour MP Barbara Keeley over whether he will attend the April 30 event, Mr Cameron replied: "I have been very clear. I have said get on with the debates before the election campaign. I think we should start now."