How did each of the party leaders perform? Our panel of columnists give their verdict on how they coped on the biggest night of the election campaign so far.
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Janet Daley on David Cameron
Best moment: He came to life over EU immigration and his record on funding the NHS, but too many of his answers were predictable, lacklustre and repetitive. Even when the Left-wing parties made outrageously misleading claims, he failed to respond with hard, contrary evidence.
Worst moment: His opening statement which was simply one more repetition of the Long-Term-Economic-Plan mantra. This is a genuine success story but he couldn’t seem to be bothered to make the convincing case.
Strategy: Clearly, he intended to present himself as the responsible, sound voice of experience and stability as opposed to the chaotic clashing opinions which opposed him.
Did it work? No. Only very occasionally did he actually seem engaged. He could have disproved (or dismissed) so many of the allegations that were being made but he looked too detached to summon up the resources. Most of his remarks were taken straight from previous speeches without even specific reference to the questions. His lack of passion made a notable contrast with the others and in the end, he became part of the clamorous disagreement.
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34 : 05 : 45 : 47
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Mary Riddell on Ed Miliband
Best moment: Strong defence of Britain’s membership of the EU – and telling David Cameron that he had broken his bond of trust on the NHS.
Worst moment: No standout gaffe. But a mistake to sound too much like a talking spreadsheet with a recital of statistics and policies.
Did the strategy work? Miliband made the conscious effort to talk to voters with direct appeals to viewers. He didn’t get rattled by attacks from the Left or Right (if anything he was too cool), but nor did he engage the public in the way he might have hoped. In the Babel of a seven-way debate, what registers is warmth, hope and the human story that an over-scripted Miliband never quite managed to tell.
But he was calm, professional, polished and generally convincing. On immigration, he made a decent case, and on Europe he was good and unafraid. Overall, His team might have hoped for a more impassioned case. But given that he had far more to lose than the three (very good) insurgent women leaders, a commendable and workmanlike performance.
Ed Miliband arrives for the debate
Dan Hodges on Nigel Farage
Best moment: When he threw his hands in the air and virtually screamed “but we’re not cutting the debt! It’s going up!” Classic Farage. Impassioned. Real. Unscripted.
Worst Moment: His opening statement. He looked tired and his message seemed tired. Reinforced impression Nigel Farage is no longer the insurgent but now part of the British political furniture.
Strategy: The only one he knows. To be direct, blunt, blokish. Chose to mix it up, frequently cutting across the other candidates. Pitched his message to his base, (or what he thinks is his base), rather than construct a wider, more inclusive narrative.
Did it work? Partly. Core Ukip supporters will have liked the message. But this was Nigel Farage’s final opportunity to broaden Ukip’s national appeal. And there was nothing fresh in his message or approach. Also took one of the night’s big hits when Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood told him he should be “ashamed” for threatening to block HIV treatment from migrants.