Bangla sanglap desk: Ed Miliband’s hopes of using an historic seven-way TV debate to catapult him into Number 10 floundered tonight, as he was overshadowed by David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage.
The Labour leader fell flat during the marathon two-hour clash, and was left lost for words after being challenged on live TV by Nick Clegg to apologise for Labour crashing the economy.
A raft of opinion polls produced mixed results on who had ‘won’ the debate, with some backing Ms Sturgeon and others putting Mr Miliband ahead.
But a ComRes survey carried out moments after the debate finished showed that 40 per cent of voters think Mr Cameron is ‘most capable of leading the country’, with Mr Miliband trailling on 28 per cent.
Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron sought to rise above the chaos of the seven-way contest, with both emphasising that they are only ones who can be Prime Minister.
At the end of the historic contest, Mr Miliband: ‘You’ve heard from seven leaders tonight. But there’s one fundamental choice. If I’m Prime Minister I will make sure everyone will play by the same rules.
‘If I’m Prime Minister we will cut the deficit every year. I believe that when working people succeed Britain succeeds. If you believe in that too, then I ask for your vote.’
Mr Cameron had the last word, after drawing the final slot, telling viewers: ‘I’ve been your Prime Ministre for the last five years and all that time I’ve tried to have one task in mind above all others – and that has been turning our economy around, putting the country back to work and clearing up the mess that was left to us.
‘I want to stand for another five years because I want us to finish the job that we have all started. We’ve created two million jobs. Let’s create a job for everyone that wants and needs one.’
Earlier Mr Clegg also ambushed Mr Cameron over spending cuts, attacking the man he has spent five years working with in government.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage sought to portray the other six leaders as the same, but sparked controversy after he said that people with HIV should not be welcomed into Britain for treatment. The ComRes opinion poll released after an hour into the showdown also showed Mr Farage topped the list of leaders who were performing ‘worst’.
The seven party leaders clashed repeatedly on the future of the NHS, as David Cameron bluntly told Ed Miliband: ‘It’s a service not a weapon.’
In the only major live TV debate of the general election campaign, claims and counter claims were made about the future of the service and finding the billions it needs to cope with a growing and ageing population.
Mr Farage launched into a rant on ‘health tourism’, complaining about people with HIV who come to Britain in search of treatment.
But Leanne Wood, leader of Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru, won the first significant applause of the night as she accused Mr Farage of ‘dangerous scaremongering’ for blaming migrants for problems in the NHS. She told him he should be ‘ashamed’ of himself.
British voters were tonight given the only chance to see seven party leaders go head-to-head in a TV debate. For the first time ever Tory leader David Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband and Lib Dem Nick Clegg shared a platform with Ukip’s Nigel Farage, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.
The two-hour showdown, broadcast on ITV from 8pm, could give the smaller parties a major breakthrough while holding major risks for leaders of the bigger parties.
Mr Clegg took it to the Labour leader. He said: ‘Say sorry for crashing the economy.’ But he also accused the Tories of wanting to impose deep cuts on the poorest while refusing to ‘impose a single extra penny on the richest in society’. Mr Farage sought to put himself at the heart of the battle, telling his opponents: ‘Let’s get real.’
Lifting the lid on life in the coalition, Mr Clegg claimed the Conservatives tried to cut the schools budget but were blocked by the Lib Dems.
Mr Cameron hit back, saying he stood by everything the government had done and insisting Mr Clegg should do the same: ‘Your pick and mix is really not going to convince anyone.’
After the row erupted Mr Miliband said: ‘They are both blaming each other and they are both right.’
The first big shock of the night came when Ms Wood rounded on Mr Farage after the Ukip leader issued a warning about people coming to Britain with life-threatening illness.
Mr Farage caused outrage after he said that people with HIV should not be welcomed into Britain for treatment.
The audience gave Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood the first applause of the evening after she responded by accusing him of being ‘dangerous’ and ‘scaremongering.
During a discussion on the NHS, Mr Farage said: ‘Here’s a fact and I’m sure that other people will be mortified that I dare to talk about it.
‘There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive.
‘It’s not a good place for any of them to be I know, but 60 per cent of them are not British nationals.
‘You can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 a year per patient.
‘I know there are some horrible things happening in many part of the world, but what we need to do is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into the system for decades.’
Miss Wood told the Ukip leader: ‘This kind of scaremongering is dangerous; it divides communities and it creates stigma to people who are ill and I think you should be ashamed of yourself.’
But he responded: ‘Well, it’s true. I’m sorry, we’ve got to put our own people first.’
Despite the controversy, Mr Farage claimed an early advantage in the televised general election leaders’ debate, with 24 per cent of viewers polled at the half-way point rating him the best performer, ahead of Ed Miliband on 21 per cent and David Cameron on 19 per cent.
The Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon was on 18 per cent, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg on 10 per cent, Green Natalie Bennett on 7 per cent and Ms Wood on 2 per cent.
But Mr Farage was also rated as performing worst by 22 per cent, with Ms Bennett on 21 per cent, Ms Wood on 18 per cent and Mr Cameorn on 17 per cent. Just 10 per cent said Mr Miliband was doing worst, 7 per cent Mr Clegg and 6 per cent Ms Sturgeon.
On the economy Mr Clegg sought to distance himself from his coalition partner, challenging the Prime Minister: ‘Imagine, David Cameron, the chaos in people’s lives… You need to take a balanced approach, you do need to reduce spending, but you do need to ask the richest to make a contribution.’
The Lib Dem added: ‘I believe you need to make the necessary cuts because you have to. George Osborne and David Cameron do it because they want to.’
As the debate got underway, Mr Cameron said: ‘Nick is wrong about our plans because we are going to raise £5billion from tax evasion and tax evaders.
‘We have got to decide why the deficit matters. If you don’t understand the mistakes of the past you are not going to act in the future.’
Mr Cameron said: ‘What I am hearing is more debt and more taxes, more debt and more taxes, even more debt and even more taxes and definitely more debt and more taxes.’
Mr Miliband also targeted the PM, asking: ‘Why won’t David Cameron act on those hedge funds – because they fund his party.’
Mr Cameron insisted: ‘Once again he’s wrong. He wants to put up taxes and cut your pay because he thinks he knows how to spend your money better than you.’
Ms Sturgeon said: ‘David Cameron has missed his own borrowing targets by £150billion. I back Ed on raising the top rate. This country cannot afford my cuts. This country needs more spending.’
But other parties called for an end to austerity. Leader of the Scottish nationalists Ms Sturgeon said it was time to call a halt to cuts north of the border: ‘Austerity is pushing people into poverty and it’s holding back economic growth.
‘I don’t agree with the cuts proposed by the Toires, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.’
An increasingly exasperated Mr Farage interrupted, telling his opponents: ‘Look what is going on here. Let’s get real.’
He went on: ‘There’s no question that spending got out of control. We have a massive problem here and it seems to me that no-one is prepared to admit.’
Mr Farage: ‘We should put the British people first and worry a bit less about propping up foreign regimes. These are massive savings.’
He attacked Scotland directly, complaining about the amount of money which the country received from English taxpayers.
Farage said: ‘English taxpayers are a bit cheesed off with so much of our money going over Hadrian’s Wall.’
But Ms Sturgeon hit back: ‘I don’t believe you can simply cut your way out of the deficit. Let’s have spending increases – modest spending increases.’
But after facing an onslaught, Mr Cameron brandished a copy of the letter left by Labour minister Liam Burne in the Treasury in 2010.
‘Why did these cuts have to happen,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘This is a copy of the letter that Labour left in the Treasury. It says, ‘I’m sorry we’ve run out of money’. My fear is, if they got in power they would do it all over again.’
He insisted that to balance the books the Tories had to ‘find one pound of each other £100 that the government spend and we are going to save that’.
‘We are not going to reach into people’s pockets is what Ed Miliband is going to do.’
Mr Miliband sidestepped questions about plans to increase taxes on the middle-classes, insisting he would have a mansion tax and a bankers bonus tax.
Mr Cameron told viewers: ‘Here’s what Ed Miliband isn’t telling you – because he doesn’t support any of the spending reductions and efficiencies we’ve had to make, he wants to put up taxes and cut your pay, going into your monthly payslip at the end of the month and taking your money out because he thinks he can spend your money better than you.’
In a clear effort to bolster his credentials as an alternative premier, Mr Miliband repeatedly described what he would do ‘if I am prime minister’, in raising the minimum wage, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts and ‘rescuing our NHS’.
Mr Clegg directly challenged the Prime Minister over his decision not to ask the richest to pay more towards deficit reduction, but instead to impose ‘ideologically-driven cuts’.
Responding to Mr Cameron’s casting of the election as a choice between ‘competence and chaos’, the Lib Dem leader urged him to ‘imagine the chaos in people’s lives’ caused by cuts in spending on health, schools and childcare.
But Ms Sturgeon said Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron had been ‘hand in glove in imposing austerity’.
Lots were drawn in advance to agree where each of the leaders will stand and when they get to speak.
Green party leader Natalie Bennett got to speak first, declaring said: ‘You were told that Austerity and inequality, bankers bonuses and tuition fees were inevitable. They were not.
‘We are committed to returning to returning the NHS to its founding principles.
‘Other parties trade in fear – fear of immigrants, demonising those on benefits. Vote for change. Vote green.’
Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who was planning to have a G&T before taking to the stage, said the other leaders on the platform were ‘very much the same’ as he emphasised his position on immigration.
‘All six of them support Britain’s membership of the European Union. They all support open door immigration.
‘I represent Ukip and we believe in Britain. We also believe that open door immigration has compressed wages… and has not been good for this country. Let’s take back control of our borders.’
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem Deputy PM for the last five years, predicted another hung parliament. He told viewers: ‘No-one standing here is gong to win this election outright. So you are going to have to chose who is going to win with who.
‘I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t made mistakes. I have. I’ve held my hands up – but I’ve learned from them.
‘I will always serve the whole of our United Kingdom.’
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has seen a surge in support since the independence referendum in September, said: ‘We will make Scotland the voice heard. My message to people watching in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is one of friendship.
‘The SNP will aim to work with likeminded others across the United Kingdom. A vote for the SNP is a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard.’
Tory leader David Cameron countered the call for change with a plea for another five years to finish the job of fixiing the economy. He said: Five years ago this country was on the brink. Millions of people were unemployed. And we had one of the biggest budget deficits in the world.
‘The plan is working because last year we had the fastest growing economy of anywhere in the western world.
‘They were wrong then and they are wrong now. The choice at this election is sticking with this plan that is working. I say don’t go back to square one – Britain can do so much better than that.’
Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood appealed to voters ‘back home’ in Wales, saying her party wanted to ‘make our communities as strong as they can be’.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who spoke last in the opening statements, said: ‘Britain succeeds when working people succeed. But that’s not what’s happened over the last five year.
‘It doesn’t have to be this way. If I’m Prime Minister I will raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour and ban exploitative zero hours contracts.
‘We’ll cut the deficit every year and balance the books. Some people will say this is as good as it gets but I say Britain can do so much better than this.’
How can you balance without raising taxes or massive cuts?
The first question of the full debate focussed on what the parties would do to tackle the deficit.
Nick Clegg said: ‘I think it’s all about balance isn’t it. I don’t think you should be faced with the stark choice. I think it’s a dismal choice.
‘The NHS does need more money. The Liberal Democrat plan is a very simple one – we will cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour.’
David Cameron said: ‘We have to find savings of one out of every £100 that the government spends. We have got to do that for the next two years. If we don’t do that we will have to put up taxes.’
Nigel Farage said: ‘The national debt has doubled. We need to make cuts. We could easily cut £10billion a year from the foreign aid budget. We could end vanity projects like HS2. And we need to revisit the Barnet formula because English and Welsh voters are getting a rotten deal.;
Mr Miliband said: ‘David Cameron promised to eliminate the deficit and he’s failed. We will reverse the millionaires’ tax cut. It’s a fair way, it’s a better way for our country.’
Ms Bennett said: ‘What we’re saying is we do need to raise taxes on those who are currently not paying their share. In the world’s sixth richest society we can afford to have a decent society.’
Ms Sturgeon: ‘Austerity is pushing people into poverty and it’s holding back economic growth. I don’t agree with the cuts proposed by the Toires, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.’
How will your party secure long-term funding for the NHS?
Ukip leader Nigel Farage and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon clashed over the cause of pressures on the NHS.
Mr Farage challenged the other parties to commit to requiring foreign nationals to take out health insurance to come to the UK.
Ms Sturgeon shot back: ‘Sturgeon: ‘There’s nothing which Nigel Farage will not blame on foreigners.’ She added: ‘The best thing we can do to help the NHS is to end austerity.’
As the debate got underway, Mr Clegg said: ‘We’ve heard lots of warm words about the NHS. The NHS doesn’t need warm words it needs hard cash. I’ll tell you how much it needs: £8billion.
‘If you love the NHS so much why don’t you put your money where your heart is.
‘Who has got the plan to get £8billion more money into the NHS. You’re not going to get it in Scotland where the SNP have cut the money going into the NHS. You’re not going to get it unless you ask the wealthy to pay a little bit more. It’s simply not true that there has been a push towards privatisation. It needs the money: £8billion.’
Mr Cameron said: ‘This is the most important institution and public institution we can get.’
The Tory leader said he cared so deeply about the NHS after taking his severely disabled son Ivan to hospital regularly. Mr Cameron also attacked Labour’s record running the NHS in Wales.
Mr Cameron went on: ‘We are changing the NHS – we are improving it. But a strong NHS needs a strong economy. When I said we would fund the NHS more every year Labour said it was irresponsible.’
Mr Miliband hit back, saying that Mr Cameron said he protected the NHS but there were ‘a million people waiting last year in A&E for more than four hours’. He added: ‘My two sons were born in a PFI hospital. It was an old falling down hospital.’
The Labour leader warned the NHS was not safe in the Tories’ hands. ‘David Cameron is planning to double the spending cuts next year. Think what that will mean for the NHS. And not just the NHS but socail care.
‘It needs to be rescued from you David. You failed the British people. They believed you. You told them you were a different kind of Conservative.
‘I think people will conclude that the NHS is going backwards and is not safe in his hands.’
Mr Cameron said the Labour leader was ‘scaremongering’, adding: ‘He said in an interview that he wanted to weaponise the NHS.’
What will you do to tackle immigration into Britain?
Some of the nastiest exchanges of the night came in the section on immigration and the European Union.
Ed Miliband started the debate by declaring Labour would never take the country out of the EU. He said: ‘If you want a party that cuts us off from the rest of the world that’s not us.’
Mr Miliband’s rival in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said all the Westminster parties were driven by the fear of losing votes to Nigel Farage.
She said: ‘I think the views of the Westminster parties are being driven by fear of Ukip not a balanced debate.’
Mr Cameron hit back at the allegation and said immigration had got too high.
The Prime Minister said: ‘We do need immigration that is controlled and fair. In recent decades it has been too high and I want to see it come down. We need to bring that under control.’
Mr Cameron set out four reforms which he has pledged to deliver if he is re-elected as Prime Minister, including banning new migrants claiming benefits for four years.
But Mr Farage accused all the other party leaders of being dishonest with voters – insisting that Britain had no control over immigration while it stayed in the EU.
He said: ‘I told you at the start that they were all the same and they you are. We have a total open door.
‘We have to build a new house every seven minutes just to cope with the level of immigration.’
Mr Farage said the country wanted lower immigration, adding: ’77 per cent of the British people want something done.’
But Mr Cameron hit back, adding: ‘Nigel is saying there is nothing you can do within the European Union so just give up and leave.
‘Ed is saying there is nothing you can do so just give up.’
He added: ‘The problem is Nigel, you’re just a back door to a Labour government that will give us uncontrolled immigration.’
The agreed line up behind the podiums will be, from left to right: Natalie Bennett (Green), Nick Clegg (Lib Dem), Nigel Farage (Ukip), Ed Miliband (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and David Cameron (Conservative).
Names drawn out of a hat also helped to decide who will get to speak first, with Ms Bennett opening proceedings and Mr Cameron having the final word by giving the last closing remarks.
Ahead of the debate tonight, Mr Cameron suggested using jujitsu to ‘put Nigel Farage on the floor’.
The Prime Minister took advice from martial arts pupils about the best way to deal with the Ukip leader when they go up against each other in the two-hour showdown.
Sensing he may have gone too far with the threat to to wrestle his opponent to the ground, Mr Cameron later backtracked, insisting there will be ‘no bodily contact’ during the debate.
All of the party leaders have spent the day preparing for tonight’s debate, with Mr Cameron facing the prospect of having to defend the Tory-led government from attack on several fronts.
Mr Cameron visited King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington, where he spoke to pupils about their favourite sports.
Chatting in a playground, the Tory leader said: ‘In this debate tonight, jujitsu, is that the right thing?’
To laughter he added: ‘Shall I get Nigel Farage and put him on the floor, is that OK?’
But later he played down the idea of physical violence, telling reporters: ‘It was a joke. There’ll be no bodily contact tonight.’
Today Mr Cameron insisted he was not nervous and was ‘relishing’ the prospect of the two-hour debate in the ITV studios at Salford’s MediaCityUK.
Mr Cameron told reporters: ‘It is a chance to get across that we have a long-term economic plan that is working.'( ref:daily mail online)