David Cameron and Ed Miliband's Paxman interviews explained

David Cameron declined to do a head-to-head interview with Ed Miliband but agreed to be grilled by the former BBC Newsnight interviewer Jeremy Paxman on the same night as his opponent.

What is the format?

The Labour leader won a coin toss and opted to go second, allowing him the chance to rebut Cameron’s points. The prime minister will therefore be questioned by Paxman for 18 minutes followed by a further 18-minute audience Q+A session moderated by Sky’s Kay Burley. Then Milband will take questions from the audience for 18 minutes, followed by an 18-minute interview with Paxman.

When does the excitement begin?

The coverage will kick off at 9pm on Channel 4 and Sky News. Immediately after the questioning, Sky will broadcast live from the “spin room” where each of the party’s spokesmen will comment on how the leaders perform and try to shape the media narrative around the interviews. The Guardian will be running a liveblog of the event, while the political team will be writing post-match reports and analysis. The Twitter hashtag is #BattleForNumber10.

Why Jeremy Paxman?

Labour will likely be keeping a close eye on the questioning given Paxman’s pronouncement last year that he is a “one nation Tory”. However, the presenter has given politicians of all stripes an extremely hard time over the years. He once asked the former Conservative leader Michael Howard the same question 12 times without getting a straight answer and more recently he took down the former Conservative treasury minister Chloe Smith as she stumbled over details of a fuel duty announcement.

What will he ask them?

Both will surely be grilled on their stagnant positions in the polls and why their campaigns do not yet seem to be striking a chord with the public. The leaders are also vulnerable on their respective failures to spell out exactly where and when they would make public spending cuts and tax rises in order to meet their goals of balancing the books. They are certain to be asked about the explosive political situation in Scotland, which has led the Conservatives to run a scare campaign about a pact between Labour and the Scottish National party and could see Miliband lose dozens of seats north of the border.

Who will be in the audience?

The studio audience of 100 has been selected by the research company Survation to ensure it is demographically representative and all the members are registered to vote. It is also weighted by voting intention, comprising one-third Conservative supporters, one-third Labour supporters and one-third undecided voters.

What about the actual debate?

Cameron and Miliband have agreed to a seven-way debate including Ukip’s Nigel Farage, the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s leader, Leanne Wood, and the Green party’s Natalie Bennett. This will take place a week later on ITV and be moderated by the ITV News at Ten presenter Julie Etchingham. There will also be a debate featuring the five opposition parties outside the coalition and a Question Time-style show presented by David Dimbleby in which Miliband, Cameron and Clegg will answer questions from a studio audience.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th March 2015 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010