Closed Live: Election 2015 – The leaders’ debate

Leaders of seven of the parties standing in next month’s UK general election are appearing in a one-off TV debate on Thursday night.

This is the only occasion that Conservative prime minister David Cameron will appear on a podium at the same time as any of the others, including his main rival for Number 10 Downing Street, Labour leader Ed Miliband. But in what is predicted to be the closest election in modern times there is as much interest in the smaller parties who could hold the balance of power.

By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard

Welcome to the coverage of tonight’s election debate. In case you missed the build-up that has been dominating the news channels for large chunks of the day this is what to expect:

The two-hour debate is due to start at 8pm on ITV. Lots were drawn a couple of days ago to determine the line-up on the podium which is, left-to-right: Natalie Bennett (Green Party), Nick Clegg (LibDems), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Ed Miliband (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and David Cameron (Conservative).

Ms Bennett will speak first, which each of the seven allowed to make short opening statements in podium order. Similarly they will also be allowed to make closing statements.

Each leaders will have a minute to answer four “pre-selected” questions, which they have not seen in advance, followed by up to 18 minutes of debate per question.

Julie Etchingham, the ITV News presenter, will moderate the debate.

George Parker, the FT’s political editor, is at the event in Salford. Here is his first despatch:

It’s a chilly Manchester night in the “spin room” but the atmosphere is starting to warm up as the political warm-up acts arrive.

Liz Truss, Tory environment minister, has been trying out the chilli nachos between television interviews, claiming that tonight’s format will help David Cameron make his “chaos versus competence” argument.

Paddy Ashdown has been doing some gentle downplaying of expectations for the Lib Dems, reminding journalists that there is no way Nick Clegg can recapture the excitement around his last election debate in Manchester in 2010.

After the debate, the Tories are wheeling out the big guns to explain why Mr Cameron won: George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May will all be in action in the spin room.

The Labour line-up by contrast looks a little underpowered. We are expecting Douglas Alexander, Lucy Powell and Caroline Flint are among the Miliband boosters being sent into the media room after the event.

Journalists will watch the action on an enormous screen. Many are nostalgic for that first election TV debate in 2010 in Manchester: let’s hope this one equals that night for drama.

ITV is still showing Coronation Street, which of course is elsewhere in Manchester, but here is a photo of the leaderless podium as the atmosphere builds with 19 minutes to go:

Of all the seven party leaders clashing tonight, five are pretty well known: two are not.

We thought it might be useful to provide a bit more information about both of them: Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, and Natalie Bennett of the Greens.

Natalie Bennett is best known (at least at the moment) for her so-called “brain fade”, or “senior moment”, when she failed to answer some pretty basic questions about her party’s housing policy. Here is a link

Bennett is a former Guardian journalist who became party leader in 2012 on a turnout of just 25 per cent. That poor mandate was blamed on it being August, with most people on holiday at the time. She is not an elected politician, having stood twice to be a councillor (unsuccessfully) and once for Parliament (unsuccessfully).

And while my colleague Jim Pickard is enlightening you all about the two lesser known leaders this is where the leaders are ensconced somewhere inside the ITV studios at what is called MediaCityUK in Salford – just behind the Holiday Inn

Leanne Wood, meanwhile, has represented South Wales as an assembly member for Wales since 2003. She became leader in 2012 and is not a native Welsh speaker.

In 2004 she was ordered out of the Welsh assembly chamber for calling the Queen “Mrs Windsor”. In 2007 she was arrested for protesting against the UK Trident nuclear missile programme at Faslane.

Her main areas of interest are: poverty, women’s issues, social services, criminal justice and so on.

So how will the dynamics play out tonight?

It is very hard to predict, but one thing is for sure. The set-up gives an equal billing to four politicians from outside the mainstream: Sturgeon, Farage, Wood and Bennett.

The danger for the three “mainstream” leaders – Miliband, Clegg, Cameron – is that they are made to look like the pale, stale, male “business-as-usual” politicians.

Last week Miliband managed to pull off his attempt to play the insurgent, compared to Cameron – who has spent the last five years occupying Downing St. This time he will be in a very different position.

In what we think is a TV first for the UK – ITV is asking people watching the debate online to use its “Rate the Debate” app – which allows you to show whether you agree or disagree with what is being said in real time. It looks pretty straightforward to use:

here’s the link

Farage is currently the bookies’ favourite to win, not least because of the debate a year ago when he defeated Clegg. The Ukip leader may have the most populist messages, at least on immigration and Europe.

Then again if we’ve learnt one thing from previous debates is that being the favourite is not always an advantage: expectations management is key.

Cameron will be relieved that he is speaking last – as George Parker points out in this article

A wry observation from political commentator Gaby Hinsliff

https://twitter.com/gabyhinsliff/status/583704604472434689

Please do feel free to join in the debate by posting your own comments in the “Live Reader Comments” box at the top right of the page

And the opening credits are rolling, music and applause from the studio audience

Meanwhile having seen Nicola Sturgeon in action in speeches in London on several occasions I suspect she will do well – with a more reassuring, less provocative tone than Alex Salmond.

In 2010 the catchphrase was “I agree with Nick”: marking the start of (temporary) “Clegg-mania.”

Will anyone say “I agree with Nic-ola”?

Bennett is out of the blocks first. (There have already been a few comments about her being on the ‘far left’ of the group of 7.)

No privatisation of the NHS. Action on climate change. Crackdown on bankers’ bonuses. No demonisation of people on benefits. Decent humane society. An end to austerity.

So the introduction by Julie Etchingham is over and the leaders are making their opening remarks

Now for Farage:

He is trying to sound unique – contrasting himself to the 6 others, who all support membership of the EU.

Open-door immigration has depressed wages and made it tough to get a GP appointment, he says. He wants to help ordinary working people, he insists.

Clegg is admitting that he has made mistakes – striking a contrite tone.

He will “serve the whole of the country”, he says, cutting the deficit but not in an unfair way.

And here is a “contrite” Clegg

And now at number 4: Sturgeon.

She insists that she is a “friend” of the UK despite wanting to break it up, promising to work with other progressive parties. An end to austerity, NHS privatisation. An end to nuclear weapons.

The Cameron script will sound quite familiar…fastest-growing economy, jobs, etc.

He’s getting in his retaliation early against the other (more left-wing) leaders: warning that if the Tory-led government hadn’t cut the deficit things would be worse.

Leanne Wood is making the pitch for Welsh votes.

Here is a reminder from our story other day about Plaid Cymru seeking £1.2bn in return for supporting a coalition.

And Ed Miliband looking very confident

Miliband says Britain can do better and things don’t have to be this way. Labour would be fairer than the Tories.

First question is about how to balance the books given the need for further cuts

Clegg says that the Lib Dems want to borrow less than Labour, which would borrow £70bn too much. But it would cut less than the Tories.

From George Parker, the FT’s political editor:

Cameron steals Miliband catchphrase: “Britain can do so much better than that.” Attempt to wrongfoot Ed Miliband, who has to adapt his slogan so as not to sound exactly the same as PM

Cameron says it is “crucial” to recognise that it is all about “balance” but says he does not want to put up taxes. “We would not help working people, we would hurt working people”

By the way, the Miliband opening phrase was a pre-cooked Labour catchphrase: “I believe Britain succeeds when working people succeed.” You’ll hear this ad nauseum between now and the election on May 7.

Leanne Wood’s reply on the deficit is that Plaid Cymru would reduce it from £90bn to £30bn by the end of the decade. She says the “austerity” of the last Parliament was a failed experiment.

Farage says how can anyone believe the promises about cutting the deficit and says it is still running at £90bn every year. “We need to make cuts and this is where we would start”, he says and spells out the Ukip line of cutting the foreign aid budget, stopping payments to the EU and scrapping HS2

Labour activist Marcus Roberts asks the trillion dollar question

https://twitter.com/marcusaroberts/status/583708955119132672

Miliband is making the case again that higher living standards means more tax revenues means a lower deficit. It probably sounds good to floating voters – if not to all economists.

Here’s a chart from the OBR showing public sector net debt

Observers are relishing the name of the first questioner: “Johnny Tudor”.

From Peston:

https://twitter.com/Peston/status/583708886382829568

The floor is now open to debate and Clegg has immediately attacked Cameron

FIrst Clegg turned on Cameron. Now Miliband turns on Cameron:

The Labour leader accuses his Tory counterpart of failing to take action on tax avoidance and hedge funds.

Cameron under attack from all sides

It is turning into something of a bunfight.

Nicola Sturgeon is now turning on Clegg and Cameron, saying that they have worked “hand in glove” to impose their miserable austerity policies on Britain for the last five years.

Journalists in Salford are enjoying the switch from monologues to actual debate.

https://twitter.com/JamieRoss7/status/583710049215746048

Farage is now turning on the entire panel – at least Cameron is getting a bit of a break. He makes the point the UK’s annual repayments on debt are bigger than the UK defence budget

Leanne Wood: “You’ve been balancing the books on the backs of the poor.”

Farage looks incredulous: his eyes are bulging.

Miliband is now accusing Cameron of planning to double departmental cuts next year. This is technically true judging by the OBR forecasts – but the Tories say the figure is not fair because it excludes the Tory plans to slash welfare by £12bn.

Cameron says “we have to stick to the plan, the plan that is working”

Cameron is waving a copy of the letter that Liam Byrne (jokingly) left in the Treasury in 2010 saying that “I’m sorry there’s no money left.”

Just waiting for someone to point out that the government has borrowed a further £500bn since then.

Miliband rounds on Cameron and accuses him of “going back to the past” rather than addressing the future

Cameron says that a Tory government would be able to cut the deficit – and not do it by “reaching into working people’s pockets.”

Unfortunately this is not true: the £3bn of welfare cuts spelled out so far by the Conservatives mostly hit working people.

Sturgeon smiles at Farage as he says how the “canny Scots” got a good deal from Barnett formula.

Leanne Wood has now turned the tables and attacked Miliband over Labour’s record in Wales where she says people still haven’t recovered from the last recession. She says Wales deserves an extra £1.2bn extra under the so-called Barnett formula to bring it on parity with Scotland and ask Miliband if he will ensure that happens if he gets into power – he doesn’t get a chance to answer as Farage and then Sturgeon interupt

Here is Wood having a go at Miliband

Miliband says that he had a vote against austerity recently and the SNP did not turn up.

Now everyone is talking over each other.

Now is the moment when the left-wing smaller parties gang up on the larger ones.

Natalie Bennett is saying she agrees with SNP that the mainstream parties offer a choice between “austerity” and “austerity light” rather than a real choice.
Here is a snapshot of Bennett

David Cameron says that the others offer various combinations of more debt and taxes.

Some insights from Chris Giles, our economics editor.

The party leaders are using standard talking points on the deficit. Mr Cameron said the cuts would be £1 in £100, using a definition of spending that minimises the effect on public services where planned cuts are roughly 10 times as large.

Much more is needed to eliminate the deficit. There is no evidence the prime minister understands this.

Labour and the SNP suggest that the deficit will come down without big cuts, but borrowing will certainly be higher and Nigel Farage thinks the deficit is the result of spending on overseas aid and the EU, overestimating their importance in contributing to the deficit.

Next question is about the NHS: how will your party ensure long-term funding for the NHS, while keeping it free-for-all?

The first thoughts of Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of FT.com

The story so far. Clegg is trying to distance himself from the Tories and the two nationalists are turning on Ed Miliband. Nigel Farage pursuing all of them from the right. Team Cameron will be fairly happy with this so far.

Farage is making favourable noises about the NHS, saying he’s had to use it enough over the years because of his “scrapes” – a reference to his plane crash before the 2010 election.

Although I remember Private Eye reporting that his back surgery a year ago was paid for by two tycoons.

It won’t be long before the others remind him of Ukip’s flirtation with part-privatisation of the health service.
Anyhow, he loves the NHS.

Bennett on the NHS: “Take the whole market mechanism out of the NHS” which is costing £10bn a year. She says the Green Party wants free prescriptions in England and Wales “just like they have in Scotland.”

Clegg is setting out Lib Dem plans to spend up to £8bn a year extra on the health service, as recommended by its chief executive.

Robert Shrimsley is impressed with Sturgeon:

Nicola Sturgeon is looking like the national figure she is. She was always my bet for the person likely to emerge best from this debate and at the moment she is doing very well. Delivering clear messages, on her strategy very well.

The public are siding with the anti-austerity female leaders, according to Sun live poll.

https://twitter.com/tnewtondunn/status/583715275259912193

A slightly different take from one of our columnists:

https://twitter.com/gideonrachman/status/583715737988177920

Miliband says the mansion tax and a tax on the tobacco industry will pay for lots more doctors and nurses

Farage is trying to turn the NHS debate into an immigration debate – saying visitors should have health insurance. “We have a lot of people coming into Britain to use the health service.”

Bennett says the figures on “health tourism” do not reflect the reality. I think she means the stories don’t reflect the statistics.

Cameron rounds off his usual comments about how the coalition government has protected the NHS by reminding everyone that the only party to have cut the NHS in the last 5 years was the Labour party in Wales

Cameron is pointing to the cancer survival rates “which used to be among the worst and are now among the best in Europe”

Our political editor George Parker:

Cameron’s team claim he is “nailing it”. The dynamic of the debate is giving him a lot more air time – having to answer his critics, notably Nick Clegg. We’ll find out soon enough if the voters agree: rumour that we might get a poll at half time (ie at 9pm)

Leanne Wood is arguing that the main parties have been using NHS Wales as a “political football”. She’s probably referring to Cameron’s constant references to it during PMQs.

Fraser Nelson, editor of Spectator is impressed by Julie Etchingham so far

https://twitter.com/FraserNelson/status/583713779411767296

Cameron is now trying to impress upon viewers that the NHS was protected by the coalition – with a cull of 20,000 bureaucrats and the hiring of 9,000 doctors and 7,000 nurses.

But Bennett is now attacking him over partial privatisation – with £6bn of new contracts going to companies.

Is this Cameron’s chance to point out that Labour presided over more rapid privatisation of the health service?

Ah. It is Clegg who makes the point, saying coalition outlawed “sweetheart deals” set up by Labour.

The FT’s poll of polls published today shows just how close things are between the two main parties and why the smaller parties are expected to hold sway come election day

More from the FT’s Robert Shrimsley:

I wonder how many Labour party members are wishing Nicola Sturgeon was their leader. Miliband is not doing anything wrong, but she is making it very hard for him to shine. She’s also been the only one to turn on Farage with her “is there anything you won’t blame on foreigners” line. A confident Labour leader would have delivered that line.

Cameron again putting in a rather bloodless performance but perhaps he feels this is prime ministerial – but he does seem to be standing aloof.

Farage is bringing HIV into it. He says some viewers will be “mortified” by him daring to raise the issue – but he says that of the 7,000 people diagnosed with HIV, some 60 per cent are foreign nationals.

Wood says this is divisive and creates stigma and he should be ashamed – to applause.

Farage says “we need to put our people first.”

Clegg is defending the government’s record on the NHS, saying only 6% per cent of services are private vs 4% under the last Labour government. He says it is “simply not right” to say the coalition has privatised the NHS

Chris Giles, the FT’s economic editor, observes:

This is a sadly predictable, but none of the leaders is willing to show any grip of figures except for use as weapons. For a good use of a number, two things are required. First, is it big or small? If it is small, shut up. Second, what is the comparison that allows you to demonstrate your number is large. I’ve not heard a single use of a figure yet that follows this simple rule.

Miliband unleashes a volley of (probably pre-prepared) attack lines on Cameron.

He says that under Labour waiting times fell from 18 months to 18 weeks – but that is now going backwards. “You failed the British people,” he says. “(NHS) is not safe in your hands.”

Cameron strikes back with a typical fusillade accusing the last Labour government of ruining the country and says his government has defended the NHS while sorting out the mess

Right we are now at the end of the debate on the NHS cue ad break

It’s probably fair to say that Bennett is outperforming – if only because most people only remember her for the car-crash LBC interview from a few weeks ago.

She won’t thank us for this but here is a reminder of how the FT covered that car crash

And the next question is about Europe and immigration – if you were elected how would you address the issue of immigration

Miliband says he has changed Labour’s approach to immigration because it is “not prejudiced” to worry about it.

No benefits for first two years after arrival; no undercutting wages and conditions.

“But if you want a party that will cut Britain off from the rest of the world it’s not me,” he says: but Labour would have controls over immigration.

Wood says it was not Estonian bar workers who caused the financial crash: it was bankers. Areas with the least immigration worry about it the most, she says.

Here is an FT graphic, based on ONS data, showing how net migration is on the rise – again:

Sturgeon says immigration can be a strain on public services and housing – but the answer to that is to provide better services, not “scapegoat” newcomers. She claims the other parties have been forced into harder rhetoric by their fear of Ukip’s popularity.

The FT ran this piece on migration at the end of March showing the true picture is more positive than first appears when official data shows net migration has surged by 42 per cent in the last year.

Cameron says he will crack down on immigration by tightening their benefits. He says anyone who comes to the country will need to “pay in” to the system for 4 years before taking anything out under a Tory government

Farage is now getting quite shouty on the subject of immigration – suggesting that once again the other six are all the same. Ukip would have an Australian-style points system, he reminds them.

Clegg says he does not want to “spread fear” about immigration but says there should be sensible controls.

Clegg says there is good and bad immigration – this is what has happened over this parliament

Emoticon ComRes poll says that Farage is winning so far.

Farage and Cameron are at loggerheads over the EU after Cameron insists he can renegotiate with Brussels and that Farage’s attitude is “giving up before he’s begun” and says Farage is a backdoor to a Labour government

Miliband says that Cameron has “marginalised” Britain within the EU, arguing that his attempt to block Juncker as president of the European Commission was an abject failure because of his lack of allies.

The BBC’s Allegra Stratton believes Farage is struggling to land his punches but immigration should be his big chance

https://twitter.com/BBCAllegra/status/583722248621727744

Miliband will be pleased with this ComRes verdict, even if he is behind Farage.

https://twitter.com/SophyRidgeSky/status/583724035000897536

Bennett is the only one to sound passionate about the humanitarian case for immigration – citing Syrian refugees and “torture victims”.

Farage: “What can we do as EU members to control immigration? Nothing.”

Here is ONS data showing the reasons behind immigration into the UK since 2009

It is going to be very difficult to call a victor in a seven-way debate, as Ukip MP Carswell points out.

https://twitter.com/DouglasCarswell/status/583724981382709248

Clegg says to Farage: “You’re married to a foreigner, I’m married to a foreigner.” Says that people should be more “open-hearted” about immigration.

The Lib Dem leader accuses Farage of acting as if any incomer is a “menace” to British society.

Beth Rigby, the FT’s deputy political editor makes an interesting observation:

https://twitter.com/BethRigby/status/583723235327488000

Betfair Exchange has a different line-up of winners, according to one of our readers.

Farage 1.6

Cameron 5.8

Sturgeon 10

Milband 11.5

Farage says there would never have been a referendum on EU membership if it wasn’t for Ukip.

Probably true, that.

Lots of talking over each other as Farage tried to get in with another anti-immigration point. Cameron is being allowed to address the issue of Syrian refugees that was brought up by Bennett. He says the government can’t bring them into the UK, instead the foreign aid budget should be used to look after them in the refugee camps

According to the ITV’s Comres half-time poll Farage is marmite – he is actually the best and worst performer

Next question is about how the leaders will look after the younger generation

The Tory spin machine is picking up on the point that Bennett makes re Syrian refugees needing more help. “We have provided £220 mllion to ensure Syrian refugees can receive food, water and shelter,” says a press officer.

re young people question: Miliband says Labour will provide apprenticeships, jobs, and lower tuition fees.

Cameron on young people: his party has introduced Help to Buy. It may be odd to talk about pensions – in this context – but his pension reforms will ultimately help people who are young now, he argues.

Bennett talks about progressive taxation to ensure a free education to stop students leaving university without more than £40,000 in debt and also wants to pay off current student debts

Clegg has to admit that he wasn’t able to implement his own policy on tuition fees while in government. But he has contributed to a “fair society” while ensuring “better economy,” he argues.

It’s not quite Cleggmania but striking that only 7 per cent of viewers thought Clegg was “worst” in first half. Only beaten by Sturgeon at 6 per cent.

The problem with ITV’s “Debate Rater” is that it is 40 seconds delayed and you can’t actually figure out who is being rated as it is not overlayed on to the debate

Farage attacks “the rich”.

Here is a reminder of his past as a pinstriped City trader. http://www.ft.com/…-00144feabdc0.html

Cameron and Clegg are now arguing about their approach to education budgets and the PM accuses his deputy of adopting a “pick and mix” approach on the policies they had previously both agreed on

Miliband points at the other leaders as he said that a typical graduate now faces £44k of debt. Neither they nor he had to pay that much money for university education. The difference – he says – is that he will do something about tuition fees.

Clegg accuses Miliband of taking a “pious” approach and says Miliband should say he is “sorry for crashing the British economy” considering he [Clegg] apologised for failing to deliver on his promise on tuition fees

Julie Etchingham, the chair, has moved the leaders away from education and now they are addressing the issue of how the young can get on the housing ladder

One of our readers reminds us that Farage, newfound scourge of the rich, went to public school.

“Erm someone tell Farage he went to Dulwich College…!” says Jun_man

Farage suggests that government should pay for the decontamination of brown field sites and build up to 200,000 houses a year which would help the supply-demand squeeze

Miliband is talking about a fair deal for the young who rely on the private renting sector and “make this country work for young people” – soundbite alert

Cameron now tries to address the issue of housing and was ambushed by an audience member asking why former armed service personnel are now homeless – he didn’t get a chance to answer

The audience are getting a bit antsy – there was a shout out about stopping fracking while Bennett was talking about saving the planet

Miliband drags the conversation back on to zero hours contracts, his issue of the week. “It goes to what kind of country we build.”

And now Cameron is dragging the conversation back on to the 100 business leaders who signed his anti-Labour letter this week.

OUCH! Cameron hits back at Miliband by saying there are 70 Labour MPs who have employed people on zero-hour contracts – he gets a round of applause

And all of a sudden we are at the end of the debate and we have moved to the closing statements

One point of view from a Labour blogger

https://twitter.com/Conorpope/status/583731149282873344

Sturgeon says “vote for something different, better and more progressive” she says none of us can afford more austerity and she we can’t afford to spend £100bn on new nuclear weapons – a reference to the SNP’s policy to kick the Trident nuclear deterrent out of Scotland

Clegg’s closing words after what he calls “marathon”.

“Make sure we don’t lurch this way or that…don’t borrow too much on the one hand or cut too much on the other.”

Only Lib Dems will keep Britain both stable and fair.

Miliband says if he is PM he will reward the hard work of all the people in the country not just those on six figure salaries and then rattles off a few more slogans

Wood: “There is an alternative to the Westminster consensus of cuts.”

And now Bennett:

if you want change you have to vote for it – i say vote for what you believe in . . . we can deliver a new kind of politics . . .

Wherever you are [in the UK] if you are thinking of voting Green, do it . . .

Farage: “I told you they were all the same”. The other 6 are all politically correct and don’t understand real people. “Most have never had a job in their lives.”

Ukip represents plain-spoken patriotism, he argues. “If you want things to be shaken up…you’ve got to put more Ukip MPs in Westminster.”

Cameron is promising to create jobs for all those who “wants and needs one” after telling viewers how he has fixed the economy over the last 5 year

This is an amazing country and we are on our way back

I say let’s stick to the plan that is working . . .

And now Julie Etchingham is thanking everyone – the leaders, the audience, the viewers and we hope the bloggers . . . good night!

We haven’t gone yet though as we are awaiting the poll to see who has won – Sturgeon, Farage . . . or one of the mainstream leaders. Theresa May, the home secretary, tells us via Sky that Cameron was “clearly in command”
Whereas Labour’s Caroline Flint seems to think Miliband has won it. I think they’re both a bit biased

One of our readers was not impressed:

And now we have George Osborne, the chancellor, on Sky:

Miliband failed to make a winning argument, he looked weak throughout. David Cameron was in control throughout

Robert Shrimsley, the FT’s managing editor, says:

The snap polls will not give the win to David Cameron but I think he’ll be happy with that. The other parties of the left turned on Miliband so that even though the Labour leader performed well, it will have less impact than a head to head would have done. Plaid and the SNP will probably have gained against Labour. Cameron stuck to his message and made no big errors. His big regret will be that Farage will have strengthened his hold on potential UKip voters. The UKip leader will have further alienated his opponents but he got across the message he wanted to deliver.

From Mure Dickie, our Scotland correspondent:

It is striking that Sturgeon’s performance has been praised on Twitter by no less than Lord Ashcroft and the Scottish Daily Mail’s politics editor, neither usually fans.

But also worth mentioning that she benefited from the fact that none of the other leaders sought to challenge her assertions about the SNP record in Scotland on the NHS, education and housing.

YouGov has called it for Sturgeon

YouGov says Cameron came out on top in terms of the 3 main leaders – bodes ill for Miliband. Farage came second overall apparently

The British public liked Sturgeon the best? (YouGov)

What does that do to the Tory attack campaign warning about a Labour-SNP deal?

More from the FT’s Mure Dickie:

SNP claims the party added more than 1,000 new members over the course of debate. It was already at over 102,000.

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, says she thought Miliband seemed to do very well and that Cameron “just disappeared” during the debate because he “just couldn’t defend his record”

So the party spin machines have kicked into high gear – the theory being that if you say something enough then it must be true

And here’s the ITV News – Comres final poll which puts Cameron, Miliband and Farage on top on 21 per cent and Sturgeon just behind on 20 per cent as the best performer. Bennett is out on her own as the worst performer on 25 per cent, with Farage on 20 per cent

And here is the full YouGov poll that puts Sturgeon in first place on 28 per cent, followed by Farage on 20 per cent and Cameron on 18 per cent, three percentage points ahead of Miliband

So all in all the TV pundits are saying there have been four polls tonight with 3 leaders coming out on top – Sturgeon twice, along with Cameron and Farage – that doesn’t look good for Miliband

The pundits on TV appear to have mis-spoken. There is good news for Miliband as the ICM poll declared him the winner, the ComRes poll for ITV had Cameron, Miliband and Farage tied on 21 per cent, while YouGov had Sturgeon as the winner

Sarah O’Connor, the FT’s employment correspondent, tweets:

https://twitter.com/sarahoconnor_/status/583731053434658818

So after all that and having digested the polls I think we can safely declare we are none the wiser about who won the debate. But Sturgeon’s impressive performance looks like bad news for Labour in Scotland. Having said that Miliband did top two of the polls, albeit one of them jointly, and would probably have liked to have seen more distance between himself and Cameron. The other thing we can safely say is that a seven-way debate just doesn’t work.
We’re signing off now, good night