Cameron attacked for failing to take part in the leaders’ debate

Farage was accused of ‘demonising’ migrants during General Election debate

Leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon and Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage take part in the “BBC Challengers’ Election Debate. Photograph: Getty

Leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon and Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage take part in the “BBC Challengers’ Election Debate. Photograph: Getty

 

Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon have attacked David Cameron for failing to take part in the second televised leaders’ debate of the General Election campaign, with the Labour leader saying that the Prime Minister had “chosen not to defend his record”.

The Labour leader was pitted against four other opposition leaders in a live 90-minute “challengers’ debate” on BBC1, in a format devised after Mr Cameron refused to take part in the three clashes originally proposed by broadcasters, which would have seen him take on Mr Miliband in a one-on-one showdown a week before the election.

Mr Miliband said he will “reject” the arguments of parties trying to break up the United Kingdom, as both Scottish and Welsh nationalists used a televised election debate to say they wanted to work together with other parties in Westminster to end austerity and introduce “progressive” policies.

Westminster watchers were watching keenly for indications over which parties would be ready to work together in coalition or some other arrangement in the case of a hung Parliament.

Condemning Mr Cameron’s decision not to debate, Mr Miliband said: “David Cameron has chosen not to come tonight. He has chosen not to defend his record. I believe that Britain can do so much better.”

Scottish National Party leader Ms Sturgeon won a round of applause as she branded Mr Cameron “a disgrace” for his absence from the debate, two weeks after the only broadcast in which the PM is due to take on his rivals for Number 10. Her mentions on Twitter rose sharply as she criticised Mr Cameron, while Nigel Farage saw a big jump in social chatter when he mentioned cutting the budget for Scotland.

During debate on immigration, Mr Farage was accused by Ms Bennett of “demonising” migrants and by Ms Sturgeon of “intolerance”.

The Ukip leader responded: “When you lose an argument in politics, you tend to start abusing your opponent, and we’ve seen quite a lot of that recently.”

Ms Bennett said: “There is someone here on this platform who wants to utterly demonise migrants. I want to celebrate the contribution of migrants to Britain and I believe we all should doing that.”

Ms Sturgeon said “strong” controls on immigration were needed, but added: “Let’s not duck the issues, but let’s make it civilised and not have it driven by the intolerance of Nigel Farage and his colleagues.”

Ms Wood told the Ukip leader: “You abuse immigrants and those with HIV, and then complain that you get abuse.”

But Mr Farage insisted that Britain was “not in a position to cope” with the scale of immigration and that Ukip’s favoured Australian-style points system for migrants would be “a fair, ethical policy and it would work”.

Mr Miliband said it was important to accept that “people’s concerns are not based no prejudice, people’s concerns are real and we have to address them.”

PA