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Campaign kick-off: 20 days to go

17 April 2015

9:38 AM

17 April 2015

9:38 AM

The third week of the election campaign looks set to end with a day of reflection. Last night’s opposition leaders’ debate provided plenty of things to ponder, not least how messy any post-election coalition negotiations will be. To help guide you through the melée of stories and spin, here is a summary of today’s main election stories.

1. Nicola + Ed

According to the snap poll, Ed Miliband ‘won’ last night’s TV debate, followed closely by Nicola Sturgeon and then Nigel Farage. That says all you need to know about where the action was. As James Forsyth summarised last night, Miliband’s gamble paid off. For the most part, he came across as statesmanlike; he avoided a battering from the anti-austerity party leaders while continually attacking David Cameron. But things became a little unstuck for Miliband when the debate moved onto hung parliaments and coalitions. Sturgeon said ‘I want Labour to be bolder and deliver the change we need’ and pleaded with him not to ‘let David Cameron back into Downing Street’:

‘We have a chance to kick David Cameron out of Downing Street. Don’t turn your back on that. People will never forgive you.’

In response, Miliband tried to distance himself from Sturgeon and said no to joining forces:

‘We have profound differences. That’s why I’m not going to have a coalition with the SNP. I’m not going to put at risk the unity of the United Kingdom. It’s a no, I’m afraid.’

But of course, Miliband hasn’t ruled out all deals with the SNP. Given that several of today’s front pages are focused on the dynamic between Miliband and Sturgeon — as a possible future Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister? — it was handy that PA captured the snap above. With the anti-austerity leaders gathering around Miliband, they all set out to impress.

Nigel Farage on the other hand continued to appeal to his core 20 per cent voter base. He accused the BBC of concocting a left-wing biased audience and yelled ‘You’re lying, you’re lying!’ at Miliband over the NHS. Early on in the debate, he said that viewers at home ‘will thinking what I’m thinking’. Everything Farage said  showed that he was focusing on those who have no time for the other leaders present.

2. Chaos Dave

The second most Googled question last night — after ‘what is austerity’ — was ‘why is David Cameron not at the debate’? There is a handy way to know why Cameron opted out. During the opposition debate, those fast hands at Consevative HQ produced this animated picture warning of the #CoalitionOfChoas:

And in case you weren’t quite sure of the message, here’s a poster being shared by Tory MPs with the same warning:

As the Google results showed, ordinary voters who haven’t followed the minutiae of the TV debate arrangements are puzzled why the Prime Minister didn’t turn up, while Nick Clegg appears to have been forgotten. Naturally, this was something Miliband and Sturgeon took advantage of — the latter in particular shoehorned ‘the Tories’ into every possible sentence, spitting it out like a disgusting swear word. Miliband told viewers ‘Cameron has chosen not to come tonight, not to defend his record’ while the SNP leader said his absence was a ‘disgrace’. Miliband used the final moments of the programme to stare down the lens and challenge Cameron to head-to-head debate before polling day. Cameron won’t, which is why Miliband said it: it was not an invitation but an attack.

What really matters from last night’s debate is whether it has any effect on the opinion polls. Last night’s survey from YouGov/The Sun has Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 34 per cent, showing that no one appears to have benefited from a manifesto bounce. We’ll see if last night’s debate makes any difference in the coming days.

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