As MPs hit the campaign trail, David Cameron and Ed Miliband faced off on TV last night. It wasn't quite head-to-head though, as each party leader, Cameron first and then Miliband, sat down to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, and take part in a Q&A alone. Imagine a prime ministerial version of Crufts, with each leader coming out before the judges (the voters) to show off what they can do. Here's our round-up of what happened.
The meatiest exchanges were during the interviews. Paxman grilled Miliband about his strength of character and the last Labour government's immigration policies, while he took Cameron was taken to task over broken promises on immigration, accusing the Prime Minister of surrounding himself with "rich people" and causing a massive rise in food banks. The Tory leader seemed thrown off by Paxman's opening salvo, grumbling about his "completely unjustified" and "ridiculous" questions. He later recovered in the Q&A with an assured performance.
Miliband, however, came out fighting against Paxman. "Am I tough enough? Hell yes!" he insisted. When Paxman mocked Labour's chances of winning a majority, Miliband shot back. "You're important, Jeremy, but not that important! You don't get to decide the result of the election!" His defiant performance was reminiscent of an early David Cameron, who in 2005 when fighting for the Conservative leadership, told Paxman off for treating his interviewees "like they are some cross between a fake or a hypocrite".
Who won? The post-match ICM poll gave it to Cameron, with 54 per cent of those saying he had come out on top, compared to just 46 per cent for Miliband. Our columnists, Dan Hodges, Mary Riddell, James Kirkup, Tim Stanley and Janet Daley gave their verdict here. Labour can be cheerful as Miliband did far better than expected, which is why the Tories have always been so wary of debates. Asked who they thought would make the better PM, 48 per cent said Cameron, while 40 per cent preferred Miliband, which is a massive improvement for the Labour leader, who is normally as much as 20 points behind. Conservative voters will view the debate as a resounding victory for their man, and vice versa, so what about the floating voters? Among the 8 per cent who said the debate could sway how they vote, 56 per cent of them said they were tempted to vote Labour, and 30 per cent the Tories.
Neither party has victory in the bag after this first TV clash. But it will provide a badly needed confidence boost for Labour, as Miliband prepares to launch his party's election campaign today. It may also rein in the Tories' exuberance as they realise "Red Ed" is not dead yet.
David Cameron has been humiliated after a plot to oust the Speaker backfired amid fury from senior Conservatives, Matthew Holehouse reports. Nearly two-dozen Tories voted against a "shabby plot" to undermine John Bercow by amending parliamentary rules to put his re-election to a secret ballot. Bercow had tears in his eyes as Charles Walker, the Conservative chairman of the Procedure Committee, attacked his colleagues for "playing him for a fool" by keeping him in the dark about an attempt to drive through reforms in the dying hours of the Parliament that he had proposed months ago.
BAD MAN BLAIR
Dame Joan Ruddock is the latest retiring MP in Rosa Prince's fascinating running series of interviews. She recalls moments of flagrant sexism in the Commons, like when one Tory MP shouted that he'd like to strip search her during a debate. The Labour MP also explains why she calls Tony Blair a "bad man" and talks of how she and fellow Labour MP Frank Doran left their spouses to be together.
AIDEN FLEES THE HURLEY BURLEY
A Tory MP who attended a Nazi-themed stag party has attacked some of his own constituents as "rude and awkward", condemned Parliament as a "mad house" and suggested he should be paid more, Steven Swinford reports. In his valedictory speech as he stood down as an MP, Aiden Burley said that being an MP comes at "great cost" including "being away from home, working very long hours, often for lower pay than you were earning before".
BATTLE ROYAL COMES TO AN END
The UK's highest court has refused to overturn a ruling which paved the way for publication of letters written by the Prince of Wales to government ministers. Supreme Court justices in London rejected a challenge by the Attorney General, the Government's principal legal adviser, against a decision by Court of Appeal judges that he has unlawfully prevented the public seeing the letters. Here are more details.
BOJO4LEADER GETS A BOOST
Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to replace David Cameron with more than twice as much support as either Theresa May or George Osborne, a new poll has found. More than a quarter of voters think Mr Johnson should replace Mr Cameron if he stands down during the next term, compared to 13 per cent who support Theresa May and 8 per cent who support George Osborne.
YELLO' YELLO'...WHAT'S ALL THIS THEN?
The Metropolitan Police is investigating allegations regarding donations to the Liberal Democrats raised in the Daily Telegraph's undercover investigation. The Electoral Commission has passed a file of allegations prepared by the Telegraph to the police. Here are more details.
I CAN'T GET NO SELFIE-SATISFACTION
Conservative MPs have been told to pose for "selfies" with voters to increase the party's exposure on social media websites like Facebook. A senior Tory source, speaking after a final pre-election meeting of the party's MPs with the election guru Lynton Crosby, agreed that this could become known as "the selfie election". Chris Hope has more.
Half of Tory MPs and candidates would back a second coalition with the Lib Dems if their party falls short of a majority, a new Dods poll has revealed. The survey found that 48% of sitting Tory MPs, and 53% of prospective parliamentary candidates, want to see a repeat of the current coalition in the event of a hung parliament.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that Alex Salmond is not "calling the shots" in the SNP as she faced unprecedented mockery at Holyrood over her predecessor portraying himself as kingmaker after the general election. Simon Johnson reports. For the second day running the First Minister was forced to assert that she, and not her mentor, is leading the Nationalists and overseeing the party's election strategy
Average of polls as of Wednesday, March 25: Lab: 33.65%, Conservative: 33.69%, UKIP 13.85%, Lib Dem 7.9%, Green 5.32%. The data is from: YouGov, Populus, Opinium, ComRes, Survation, Ipsos MORI, ICM, TNS-BMRB.
TOO MANY TWEETS…@PiersMorgan: Miliband did marginally better than Cameron. And Miliband's awful. So that shows you how poor Cameron was/is
From The Telegraph
Bobby Friedman - John Bercow: the most infuriating man in Britain
Fraser Nelson - Public satisfaction is high, but the Tories are not getting the credit
Quentin Letts - Miliband came over all Mr Muscle. Am I tough? Hell yes!
George Eaton - Punchy Miliband was the big winner against a flat Cameron
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20:00 'Any Questions' from Doncaster. On the panel: Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves, Respect MP George Galloway and Ukip economic spokesman Patrick O'Flynn
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