When Theresa May and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron fought each other - and failed - over North East seat

Theresa May and Tim Farron
Theresa May and Tim Farron

The failed attempt by both Theresa May and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron to poach a seat from Labour in the North East has risen to the fore again in a row over the General Election.

Mrs May has been accused of trying to "run away" from scrutiny as broadcasters appeared set to hold election TV debates despite her refusal to take part.

Mr Farron, who faced Mrs May when they were rival candidates at the 1992 general election in North West Durham, was among those to attack the Prime Minister on the issue yesterday.

He said: "The Prime Minister and I, back in 1992, debated publicly, forcibly and amicably when we were both candidates together.

"Indeed, the Prime Minister called out the then incumbent, who did not show up for some of those debates.

"Why will she not publicly debate these issues now - what is she scared of?"

The safe North West Durham seat was ultimately comfortably held by Sunderland-born Labour MP and former chief whip Hilary Armstrong, and is now represented by Pat Glass.

Mrs May faced taunts of "frit" from Labour backbenchers at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, as leader Jeremy Corbyn accused her of running scared of scrutiny on her record.

Mrs May, however, now could take part in a Question Time-style televised question and answer session with voters after ruling out a head-to-head debate with rivals during the general election campaign.

it is understood she is now open to the idea of a Q&A session after ITV confirmed it would host a leaders' debate and a senior BBC journalist said the corporation would not let a single politician stop a programme which was in the public interest,.

The format could be similar to EU referendum debates in which David Cameron and Michael Gove faced questions from a live audience in separate programmes.

The PM confirmed on Wednesday that she will not face Mr Corbyn and other party leaders in live TV debates in the run-up to the June 8 poll, insisting that campaigning should be about getting "out and about" meeting voters.

There have been calls for TV broadcasters to "empty chair" Mrs May in election-time leaders' debates if she refuses to take part.

But she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We won't be doing television debates."

ITV confirmed that it will stage a leaders' debate as it did in 2010 and 2015.

No details of format or date have yet been released, but it is expected that Julie Etchingham will host the programme, as she did in 2015, when seven leaders including David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg took part in a two-hour showdown.

Meanwhile the BBC's head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro told The Telegraph that he did "not want to get in a position where any party leader stops us doing a programme that we think is in the public interest".

Mr Munro added: "There is a proven track record over two elections and two referendums that debates reach huge audiences including a lot of young people who don't watch conventional political coverage in great numbers.

"We think it is very much in their interest that peak-time debates go ahead. In 2010 and 2015 the number of young and first time voters going to the polls was up on previous elections.

"We believe there was a relationship between that and the audience the debates pulled in. It helps engagement with hard-to-reach audiences."

Responding to ITV's announcement, Mr Corbyn said: "If Theresa May is so proud of her record, why won't she debate it?

"She cannot be allowed to run away from her duty to democracy and refuse to let the British people hear the arguments directly."