Leaders’ Election Debate: Live Blog

Jonathan Holmes is at the ITV Leaders' Debate in Manchester. Read the latest updates here

23.22 Right wee yins, time for bed/the pub. With the polls disagreeing to agree on who won –except everyone is apparently Scottish now– let’s review it as a television show. We are the Radio Times after all. Were you disappointed?


Secretly a lot of people wanted this to descend into anarchy, but it didn’t. Well done Etchingham. Instead of spectacle, we got a debate. Not a brilliant debate, not a debate that’s going to be remembered and leather bound and sold in the British Library’s gift shop, but a debate nonetheless. British politics has never wanted for spectacle. Every week, our politicians jeer at each other from green leather benches, and every year parliament is opened by someone wearing this. Perhaps this vaguely dull, vaguely taciturn display was just what we needed.

Next week: Emmerdale.


New poll! New poll! This one from ICM/The Guardian. Apparently Ed Miliband ‘won’, with Cameron in a close second.

Ed Miliband – 25%
David Cameron – 24%
Nigel Farage – 19%
Nicola Sturgeon – 17%
Nick Clegg – 9%
Natalie Bennett – 3%
Leanne Wood – 2%

Except if you ask the 1,372 who took part to choose directly between Cameron and Miliband, it’s a dead 50/50 heat. It’s looking like we won’t know who really ‘won’ until we cast our ballots in May.

22.41 The latest on Victoria Prosser, the 33 year old heckler who interrupted proceedings.

22.04 First polling from YouGov suggests Nicola Sturgeon is narrowly beating Nigel Farage, with both over 23 per cent. The rest are at less than 20 per cent in a poll of 500 people.

22.00 The spin is at full force.

21.57 Right, well, that’s it. Democracy won and all that. Let’s go get the play by play.

21.50 “We’ve come to the end of the free flowing debate.” “No!” shouts someone in the room. We’re all a bit giddy.

21.48 Loud hubbub from the back of the Spin Room, lots of people have stopped paying attention. It’s like a dog has walked into the classroom.

21.45 She’s still in the room! Shouting about fracking! Staffer makes ‘cut it’ sign to colleague. Adam Boulton and other broadcasters spring to their feet, other journos make for the door. They’re heading for the exit the unnamed (expect that to change soon) protester is likely about to be bundled out of. It’s a ten minute walk –five if you’re running– and if I didn’t have to watch the rest of this, it’s where I would be heading too.

21.44 An interruption! Hello tomorrow’s front pages. 

21.36 Spin is weird. One man in the middle of the room is applauding Clegg’s attack on Miliband, his lone clapping echoing off the walls. 

21.36 Was Miliband stepping into the Clegg and Cameron tiff with “they’re both right” a tart reference to “I agree with Nick”?

21.35 While at the Warrington King’s Academy, Cameron learned some jujitsu ahead of tonight’s debate.  

21.31 Both Scotland and Wales being held up as political idyls. Wonder if it will affect tourism?

21.30 An odd choice for a politician to call himself ‘infamous’ for not delivering on tuition fees. Some subdued jeering in the room.

21.26 A 20-something year old in the audience asks why we should be hopeful about the future of the UK. A 20-something year old in the Spin Room asks why the wifi keeps dying and what he has done to deserve this.

21.25 20th April. Remember to register!

21.22 A poll by ComRes/ITN says Nigel Farage was performing best and worst at halftime. At least, according to 615 voters currently watching the debate.

21.21 Is this section running long, or did I drop my watch in the toilet?

21.20 David Cameron answering, former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown walks to the front of the room to laugh and shake his head in apparent disbelief.

21.19 At this point, it’s almost like Miliband can’t see the other five people in the semi-circle: it’s just him and Cameron.

21.17 “The Farage family were foreigners once. I’m married to a foreigner.” Nick Clegg makes things personal.

21.15 Wood’s line about all four countries agreeing to a potential withdrawal from the EU seems like a red flag to Farage.

21.13 Sturgeon acknowledges the diversity of the audience. Pollsters ICM ensured it is ‘broadly demographically representative‘ of the UK. 

21.10 Miliband is suddenly finding everything funny, even Farage’s jokes.

21.02 The verdict’s in. At halftime, everyone is winning.

21.00 Quick! Everyone into the aisle. SPIN! SPIN! SPIN!

20.59 Leanne Wood’s local focus has a few journos pining for ‘the valleys’.

20.58 Break now. Next up – Immigration. A thrill runs through the room.

20.54 Like with health tourism, most panelists refuse to engage with Farage’s line on HIV. I’m told that Miliband at least has been instructed not to let Farage control the discussion/tomorrow’s headlines.

20.50 HIV. Dead silence as the room holds its breath. What’s going to happen?

20.49 Etchingham keeps things ticking along, but mostly fades into the background. Unlike some

20.47 Wood attacks Miliband, but Miliband responds to Cameron. The tactics, the tactics.

20.45 Speaking of… Farage clearly aiming for laughs with his expresison, a clever way of stealing the limelight while someone else is talking.

20.43 Some excellent insulted reaction shots from Miliband and Clegg while Cameron was talking. Expect to see them as gifs forever and ever and ever…

20.41 “Yeah, I just wonder what everybody thinks about health tourism.” 

20.41 Fair to say this has been a more adult, figure-heavy debate than the expected battle royale. 

20.37 As expected, everyone compliments the NHS, clever of Clegg to turn it around with “Of course we all love the NHS.” “Why don’t you put your money where your heart is?” is a bit pat though, loud tutting from the corner of the room.

20.35 Farage supports NHS because “I’ve had so many scrapes in my life” that he’s “needed it more than most”. The laddy lines are getting less and less response with the crowd here, would be interesting to know how they’re playing at home.

20.33 Phew, that was just question one! Now onto the NHS: how can you guarantee long term funding while keeping a public service?

20.32 Cameron starts building up a rhythm, Sturgeon keeps pressing, foreign aid is ‘completely beyond’ Nigel Farage.

20.30 Bennett struggling to get heard in rabble, Julie Etchingham calms it down to let her speak. Strong showing from Etchingham thus far.

20.29 Wait, wait, who’s shouting at who?

20.28 Farage leads a tribute (of sorts) to ‘the canny Scots’. The canny Scots in the Spin Room preen, Nicola Sturgeon gets vocal.

20.27 Wood: ‘Ed, do you accept you failed?’

Miliband: ‘No I don’t Leanne’

20.25 “There you go again” – Ed Miliband. Groans from the peanut gallery. Aren’t you glad I posted that video six minutes ago?

20.24 Spinners have started spinning. UKIP repeating ‘How’, loudly, over and over again.

20.23 CUT TO: Ed Miliband tearing a piece of paper.

20.22 Whoever called Farage as the first to blow up and play to the crowd: your friends owe you a drink. Big laughs in the Spin Room.

20.21 Clegg bristles at Farage: ‘I don’t think making people on the otherside of the planet poorer is a solution’

20.19 Nicola Sturgeon the first to pull the ‘there you go again’ gambit, floating above the conflict.

20.19 ‘Here’s what Ed Miliband isn’t telling you…’ is clearly a poster in the making.

20.18 Clegg calls Cameron ‘David Cameron’. Cameron calls Clegg ‘Nick’.

20.17 Slight groan and chuckling as Clegg immediately takes the opportunity to attack his coalition partner Cameron, in an attempt to differentiate the parties. Trouble in paradise…

20.16 Very polite thus far, but remember that after these uninterrupted one minute answers, there’s a free form exchange between the leaders.

20.14 Interesting whether the leaders choose to address the member of the audience who asked the question, or stare down the camera to the voters at home.

20.13 According to political legend, Nixon lost his debate against Kennedy because the television audience could see him sweat. It must be hot under those lights…

20.11 Very much heads down in the Spin Room, as the journalists scrabble to take notes. A few quiet words at the back of the room, but forget the shouting and spinning you’ve seen in the movies. This isn’t the floor of Wall Street.

20.10 First question on the economy, first answer: Nick Clegg. Scroll down for the full order.

20.09 ‘If I’m Prime Minister’ says Ed Miliband in a honed address. He’s hoping that sound less theoretical soon.

20.08 Interesting decision from Leanne Wood, addressing the folks ‘back home’. Suggests an eye on the local fight.

20.06 David Cameron following through with the plan for senatorial, Prime Ministerial tone. 

20.05 A softer version of Nicola Sturgeon than voters (and her opponents) are used to, very much an introduction to the wider UK.

20.04 Eye contact from Clegg, and manages to move from ‘I’ve made mistakes’ to ‘grit and resilience’.

20.03 Natalie Bennett sounds nervous to start, perhaps remembering recent calamities, but warms up. Farage starts at F1 commentator speed before mellowing.

20.01 Clegg first to drink water. Significant? (No.)

19.56 Right, that’s us back (thereabouts) and just in time to get started! Are you rrrrrreeeeeeddddyyyyy?

19.30 Sorry folks, slight technical difficulties. Hopefully my earlier posts pop back into existence soon. Historians of the future demand it.

19.20 There are a lot of people talking about boxing who don’t know anything about boxing. Apparently Cameron needs to ‘keep his hands up’ and ‘let the others tire themselves out’. Presumably he leads with his right.

19.11 “They want us to cover the election on Minecraft.”

19.06 It was never going to be able to make it, what with question vetting and all, but the lack of foreign policy from the expected subjects gets ever more annoying. 

19.00 Right, an hour to go, let’s review the rules. Seven candidates. Four questions. Simple.

Oh, and the candidates will talk in this order.

Got that?

18.50 With the SNP and Plaid Cymru taking to the stage, the Scottish and Welsh journos are suddenly very popular. I feel like the belle of the ball.

18.43 No but seriously, where are you going afterwards? We’re whipping round for a taxi. #democracy

18.41 Having so many people on stage means that there will only be time for four questions, plus opening and closing statements. The topics covered are expected to be the economy, the NHS, the future of the UK and immigration. We can expect all of the candiates will be broadly supportive of the first three.

18.35 Taking the temperature of the room: the Spin Room is freezing. Your correspondent is camped out next to a two bar heater. There is free chilli, which one journalist has just called ‘the best food there has ever been’. More as this develops.

18.30: Lots of cameras sweeping the room as broadcasters try to report on not much. Square your shoulders and type with purpose.

18.23 People keep comparing this to American presidential debates, but it’s closer to the histrionic primaries the Republicans and Democrats use to select their candidates. The BBC’s Justin Webb recaps their hilarious history, and the way in which they can make then break candidates. Who could forget this gem?

18.16 The need for pithy sign-offs can sometimes get a bit surreal. The Spin Room is based in ‘The Pie Factory’, a building in Media City, Manchester.

“Lots of fingers in pies?”

“That sounds rude.”

“Something to do with upper crust?”


One thing is sure: there are going to be a lot of pastie people up on stage.

18.12 Need a reminder of our contestants? Here you go. Their positions at the podiums were decided by lot.

Need a bit more reminding? Here’s a rundown

18.10 The mood is giddy among the journos and politcos. This is new, and that doesn’t happen that often in our democracy. People are talking about the danger of the debate turning into a circus if Julie Etchingham can’t wrestle the leaders under control. Then again, people like the circus… 


This is the famous ‘Spin Room’, where journalists sit and politicos try to argue their candidate came off best. Looks quite impressive, doesn’t it?



Hmm. Interestingly, it’s called the ‘Spin Room’ because Westminster people are nerds who love the West Wing.