BBC election debate: Shadow of David Cameron dominates clash he chose to miss – but early polls give victory to Ed Miliband

Despite criticism for supporting 'Tory cuts', the Labour leader survived his TV showdown and challenged absent PM to a head-to-head debate

Andrew Grice,Nigel Morris
Friday 17 April 2015 11:06 BST
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Miliband's performance may have impressed many doubters
Miliband's performance may have impressed many doubters (Getty)

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Ed Miliband survived his TV showdown with four other opposition party leaders as he staked his claim to be prime minister but came under repeated fire for supporting “Tory cuts”.

After a heated 90-minute live BBC debate, the Labour leader challenged David Cameron to a head-to-head debate before next month’s election. Mr Cameron stayed away from the five-way debate and Nick Clegg was excluded.

The third of four election debates featured Mr Miliband, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett of the Greens, the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. Senior Labour figures were nervous that Mr Miliband might be outgunned. Although the three women leaders often put on a united front against him, he stuck to his line on reducing the deficit in a “balanced and fair way.”

Ms Sturgeon won applause from the 200-strong studio audience in London when she declared: “It is a disgrace David Cameron is not here to defend his record.”

In his closing remarks, Mr Miliband told Mr Cameron: “If you think this election is about leadership, the debate me one on one… and let the people decide.”

After the debate, Labour said Mr Cameron was the “clear loser”, claiming that Mr Miliband looked like “an alternative prime minister”.

A snap poll by Survation gave Mr Miliband victory.

But Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Health Secretary, said: “What we saw tonight was a preview of the threat Britain faces from Ed Miliband’s coalition of chaos. An Ed Miliband government, propped up by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, will mean more borrowing, more debt and more taxes.”

Spending

Ms Sturgeon led the attack on Labour’s spending plans, accusing Mr Miliband of pursuing a “Tory-lite” agenda. She said anti-austerity parties in a hung parliament would be “holding [Labour] to account and making them bolder”. Ms Wood said voters were “seeing through the austerity myth”.

Mr Miliband claimed that the SNP’s plans for Scotland to have full tax and political autonomy within the UK would cost £7.6bn.

SNP and Labour go head-to-head
SNP and Labour go head-to-head (AFP/getty)

The night’s first cheer went to Mr Farage when he pledged to cut debt by slashing overseas aid and scrapping HS2.

Housing

Mr Farage clashed with Ms Sturgeon after the Ukip leader said that the country needed to build a new house every seven minutes to cope with rising immigration. He said new social housing should be for UK nationals only.

The SNP leader told Mr Farage: “In your world, every problem is caused by immigrants. We need to build more houses… If we could just put the bogeyman [immigration] to one side, we can actually debate these issues for real.”

Mr Miliband admitted: “The last Labour government did not build enough homes. The reality is that we have not done it for a generation.”

Defence

The SNP, Plaid and Green leaders all called for Trident to be scrapped, with Ms Bennett condemning plans to renew these “hideous weapons of mass destruction”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “If it comes to a choice of how to spend £100bn, I would choose childcare, health and education over Trident.”

Supporting the retention of Trident, Mr Miliband pointed to the turmoil in Ukraine as evidence that Britain faced an “uncertain and unstable world”. Mr Farage said Ukip would meet the Nato target for spending two per cent of GDP on defence, arguing that it was a form of insurance.

Immigration/NHS

Mr Farage clashed with other leaders after saying that the NHS had become an “international health service” and repeated his criticism of HIV-positive foreigners being treated in the UK even though they had no links with it.

Mr Farage said he'd only join forces with Tories if they agree to a quick referendum
Mr Farage said he'd only join forces with Tories if they agree to a quick referendum (AFP/GETTY)

Ms Bennett accused Mr Farage of wanting to “utterly demonise” migrants. She said the system should be “fair and humane” as well as “controlled.” Ms Sturgeon accused Ukip of “intolerance”, saying it “scapegoats” immigrants.

Mr Miliband said he had toughened Labour’s immigration policy and did not dismiss people’s fears, but said Ukip was “exploiting” rather than “addressing” them. The Labour leader accused Mr Farage of wanting to replace the NHS with a private insurance system. A furious Mr Farage replied: “Stop lying.”

Hung parliament

Ms Sturgeon, Ms Wood and Ms Bennett all vowed never to “prop up” a Conservative-led government and urged Labour to join forces with them to block Mr Cameron’s route to Downing Street.

Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood takes on Ed MIliband
Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood takes on Ed MIliband (Getty)

The SNP leader said: “If he is prepared to be better than the Tories than I’m prepared to work with him.”

Mr Miliband argued that Labour was the only party which could guarantee Mr Cameron’s removal but retorted that he had “profound differences” with the SNP.

Mr Farage attacked the prospect of SNP backing a minority Labour government, saying English voters would be alarmed by the “Scottish tail wagging the English dog”.


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