David Cameron won tonight’s TV head to head with Ed Miliband according to an instant ICM poll. The poll for the Guardian gives the evening to Cameron 54-46. Though, it is worth noting that this 8 point margin is smaller than Cameron’s usual lead on the leadership question.
Cameron started with a grilling from Jeremy Paxman, who pinned the Tory leader to the crease with a series of fast, hostile deliveries. Cameron just about kept the ball out. But he was visibly uncomfortable at points. However, there was no killer moment.
Cameron was more comfortable with the questions from the audience and with them he repeatedly pivoted to the Tories’ key campaign message that you can only have more spending on public services with a strong economy. Cameron also avoided any signs of hauteur, responding to the audience by the name and making a point of thanking them for what they do.
Unlike Cameron, Miliband started with the audience — which turned out to be a very wise decision. The audience questions to him were more direct than those to Cameron but they got Miliband’s feet moving before his encounter with Paxman. There was one particularly brutal audience question about Miliband standing against his brother which he handled as well as possible. Though, I suspect that his admission that his relationship with his brother is ‘healing’ rather than ‘healed’ will get a fair amount of coverage.
With Paxman, Miliband was more aggressive than Cameron had been — and in the studio it seemed to work. When Paxman tried to get Miliband to speculate about hung parliament scenarios, Miliband responded that while Paxman was so important, he wasn’t important enough to decide the election result. However, despite all this, the poll had Miliband losing.
But, I suspect that, Labour will be quite happy with Miliband going head to head with Cameron and only losing by a narrow margin. That might sound absurd but it reflects the two parties’ relative confidence in their leaders.