Miliband trips, Cameron trumps: 5 punchy nuggets from Question Time

Crowd steals the show, ripping into Cameron and Miliband, and baying for Clegg’s blood

Last night’s Question Time Election Leaders Special was the most exciting televised debate so far.

The crowd in Leeds took leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to task with brutal questioning that saw all of them straining to choose their words.

In a departure from the usual panel format, the three leaders were grilled one at a time, defenceless in the spotlight, with David Dimbleby as master of ceremonies.

A Guardian/ICM poll after the debate handed the “win”, to Cameron - 44% thought Cameron had “done best”, against 38% for Miliband and 19% for Clegg.

This was backed up by statistics from Twitter analysts TheySay, who also said there was more positive sentiment around Cameron than Miliband.

But what did we learn?

1. David Cameron has belatedly found a level of form

Despite the tough crowd, Cameron appeared calm and confident, and hit home the party message with rare verve, even linking everything back to the economy, which should please Tory campaign manager Lynton Crosby, if not the public. The PM didn’t actually say anything that hadn’t been said before.

Faced with questions on the growing dependency on foodbanks and child poverty, Cameron used the economic trick to sidestep the issue, saying “not everything’s perfect, but we haven’t finished the work”.

In addition, the Question Time audience didn’t let him go without insinuating that he’s a liar.

“Is needing a law to guarantee your ‘no tax rises’ promise an acknowledgement that you were in the habit of lying in your pre-election promises?” Asked one audience member to loud applause and nervous smiles from the Prime Minister.

2. Ed Miliband went in hard against the SNP

Ed Miliband’s turn in the spotlight arguably offered the most new information. The Labour leader gave the most definite answer his party has given yet on the prospect of a Labour/SNP tie-up, saying he was “not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”.

“Let me be plain,” he said. “We’re not going to do a deal with the Scottish National party; we’re not going to have a coalition, we’re not going to have a deal. 

“I am not going to sacrifice the future of our country, the unity of our country, I’m not going to give in to SNP demands around Trident, around the deficit, or anything like that,” he added.

With the SNP set to take practically, or even literally, the whole of Scotland, almost entirely at Labour’s expense, it seems like much too little much too late from Miliband on this. If he wants to be in Number 10, he will undoubtedly have to work with the SNP in one way or another.

3. Clegg isn’t taken seriously anymore

Instead of taking Clegg to task over policies and what he wants for the country, the audience instead went for Clegg’s blood, attacking him personally.

“Have you got any plans for next week when you’re unemployed and your party’s an irrelevance?” came the uncompromising question.

“Charming”, Clegg responded.

Of course tuition fees were also mentioned – and they will probably haunt Clegg forever. “I got it wrong. I have said sorry. I hope you can give me credit for the many other things I have put into practice,” he said in response.

4. Miliband was successfully funny

Perhaps buoyed on by burgeoning #Milifandom online, the Labour leader was comfortable enough to try a risqué line on the audience. Told by an audience member that Labour must admit that it is unlikely to win a majority, Miliband said: “Cameron said that if you don’t get a majority it meant going into a darkened room with Nick Clegg. Now I don’t like the sound of that at all – for a whole range of reasons, but I’m not going to start bartering away my manifesto.”

Coming as part of a serious point, it struck the right tone, getting considerable laughter from the crowd in Leeds.

The Labour leader also managed to make headlines this morning after making a minor slip coming down from the dais as he finished.

5. The audience were the real champions

The crowd in Leeds Town hall was apparently made up of 25% Conservative supporters, 25% Labour supporters, 25% Liberal Democrat supporters, 15% who favour other parties and 10% who are undecided.

This meant that all three leaders got cheers as well as lively/passionate interrogation.

“Why is the Labour party trying to mislead the country?” One audience member asked Miliband. “You’re frankly just lying,” she added, before finishing: “Do you think your view’s more important than mine?”

While another interlocutor shouted “well, you’re wrong”, at Cameron after the PM had just answered his question.

It was all great stuff.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Ian Middleton

    I'm not a Libdem, but I thought the question to Clegg about his future plans was rude and uncalled for.

    This was supposed to be a discussion on policies, not a chance for some members of the audience to have a personal dig at someone who can't dig back.

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  • Why don't Labour politicians tackle this enduring myth that the Tories are good with the economy? Osborne has missed all of his targets, and the austerity policies he is hell-bent on pursuing have been widely discredited every but the UK.

    And yet Labour meekly agree that they will keep his failed spending plans in place if they win the election - thereby tacitly endorsing them.

    Why don't they stand up and shout the facts about the Tories disastrous economic record loud & clear, and then propose a better alternative?

    I am sure that they would get more votes with an anti-austerity policy.

    Unfortunately, the Labour Party is bankrolled by the same narrow vested interests who are the only beneficiaries of "austerity".

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