Confident Ed Miliband the winner in TV election debate

Labour leader’s performance enhanced by rivals treating him as PM-in-waiting

Labour Party leader Ed Miiband looks on as Plaid Cymru Party leader Leanne Wood, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon embrace after the BBC Challengers’ Election Debate 2015. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour Party leader Ed Miiband looks on as Plaid Cymru Party leader Leanne Wood, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon embrace after the BBC Challengers’ Election Debate 2015. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

Labour leader Ed Miliband delivered one of the most confident performances of his career during the last of three TV leaders’ election debates, capitalising on the decision of the Conservatives’ David Cameron not to take part.

The decision of Mr Miliband to stand alongside Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Woods had been regarded as a major risk.

However, Labour was jubilant in the minutes after the debate ended, believing that Mr Miliband had appeared as “the prime minister-in-waiting” and that he was treated as such by the others on stage, even when they disagreed with him.

Saying that Mr Cameron had refused to “defend his record”, Mr Miliband issued a surprise demand to the prime minister to take part in a head-to-head debate, declaring: “David, if you think this election is about leadership, then debate me one-on-one.”

Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg are scheduled to take part in a BBC Question Time debate later this month, though there is no real prospect that Mr Cameron will bow to Mr Miliband’s surprise demand.

However, senior Conservative William Hague said the debate had given UK voters sight of “the coalition of chaos” permutations that could be necessary after May 7th if the Conservatives do not win a majority.

Mr Miliband repeatedly talked about when he would become prime minister, insisting that he wants to be in No 10 Downing Street to put “working people first”, and not “to wait for the wealth to trickle down” from the wealthy.

Ms Sturgeon issued repeated offers to Mr Miliband to help him to block the Conservatives from power, but she insisted that Labour’s spending cuts plan would have to be reversed.

Mr Miliband was careful to keep his exchanges with Ms Sturgeon civil, though he pointedly disagreed with her on the economy and on the SNP’s refusal to support the renewal of the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear missile force.

Ms Sturgeon, too, was careful to maintain civil relations on-air with the Labour leader, but she said: “I’m not saying that there is no difference between Ed Miliband and David Cameron; I am saying that there is not a big enough difference.”

However, Mr Miliband scored a point, telling the SNP leader: “You want to gamble on getting a Tory government. I can guarantee it. I’ve fought Tories all my life. You fought Labour all your life, so I don’t believe you.”

Ms Bennett, the Green Party leader, urged voters to vote for the change they want, saying: “People are looking for an alternative to the grey, stale politics . . . they told us that austerity would be good for all, it has not.”

Unusually, Ukip leader Mr Farage clashed with the audience, saying its membership was unacceptably “left-wing even by the standards of the BBC”. In the face of boos, he went on: “The real audience is sitting at home, actually.”

Describing the election campaign as becoming “farcical”, Mr Farage claimed that the main party leaders are “trying to bribe you with borrowed money”, insisting that his party’s manifesto had been fully costed.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Nigel Dodds, who once more condemned the BBC’s refusal to invite DUP leader Peter Robinson to take part, said the party wanted stronger immigration controls, the safeguarding of the union, but also a referendum on EU membership.