Miliband insists there will be no SNP vote deal

Labour leader tells testy ‘Question Time’ audience he is still pushing for a majority

Labour leader, Ed Miliband has insisted that he will not "lop off bits of my manifesto" to reach a deal with the Scottish National Party after the May 7th election.

Declaring once again that no coalition pact will be reached, Miliband tried to reassure English voters by saying that no deal of any kind will be done to secure SNP votes.

Emphasising that he is still pushing for a majority Labour government, Miliband said that other parties in the Commons will be faced with a choice of backing a minority Labour administration – or not – if that happens.

Meanwhile, British prime minister David Cameron refused repeated demands from a BBC Question Time audience to declare his post-election coalition hand, saying only that he had "done the right thing" in 2010 and would do so again.


Frequently lively, occasionally mildly-aggressive, the Question Time audience had 30 minutes each to interrogate separately Cameron, Miliband and the Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg.

Cameron was pressed on the Conservatives' attitudes towards the NHS and told by questioners that voters do not trust his party to safeguard it.

In a bid to win them over, he declared: “To me, it is my life’s work. I care about it passionately, but ultimately you only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy.”

Repeated criticism

Meanwhile, Miliband struggled occasionally in the face of repeated criticism from members of the audience about Labour’s economic performance and borrowing record between 1997 and 2010.

Refusing to accept that Labour borrowed too much, Miliband said he did not regret the investments that had been made to rebuild decaying schools and hospitals.

The global financial crisis was caused by the failure to regulate banks, not by the UK's borrowing he told one questioner: "President Obama is not dealing with a deficit because we spent money on schools and hospitals."

The audience was split into four with three sections having declared for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, while the fourth quarter was comprised of undecided voters.

Illustrating the temper of the audience, one woman asked how anybody could trust Labour when Miliband did not realise the party had over-spent. A middle-aged man told him he was lying.

Despite facing pressure, Miliband refused to back down on his refusal to copy Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.

EU exit

Saying that choices are the responsibility of leadership, the Labour leader said that it is not “the right thing to plunge ourselves into two years of debate” when an EU exit is not in the UK’s interests. Listing the major problems facing the UK, including jobs, the deficit, the NHS, Miliband said he wanted to “spend all of my energies” on those: “You don’t always do what the polls tell you, you do what is right for the country.”

The Labour leader was mocked subsequently after a minor stumble as he left the awkwardly-designed podium used by Question Time at the Leeds gathering, the final TV debate of the election campaign.

Facing a torrid time from some in the audience, Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg once again gave a mea culpa for tripling tuition fees when he had said in Opposition that he would abolish them.

However, he asked the "fair-minded" to give him credit for the things he had delivered. In the final week of the campaign, voters have to ask themselves who will accompany Cameron, or Miliband into 10 Downing Street. It could be Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party, or Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party "or is it going to be me?" he said, warning that Cameron and Miliband will "lurch off to the right and the left" if left on their own.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times