Peter Hoskin

Leaders’ debate - live blog

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2207, PH: Well, we've just been through all that - and guess what's leading the News at Ten.  Yep, the ash cloud...

2205, PH: And that's it.  I'll be writing a verdict post shortly.

2203, PH: And Cameron has pre-empted Brown's statement well.  He says that the other two have tried to frighten the audience about the Tories - but "put hope before fear".  His key message after that is about national insurance.  A solid closer from the Tory leader.

, PH: Classic Brown. He points the finger at the Tories, saying that they can't match Labour's guarantees and that they'd risk the recovery. I'm not sure this negative approach will come across so well.

, PH: Here we go: the closing statements.  Clegg starts by saying that he hopes he's shown that there is "an alternative to the two old parties", and follows up by referring to the questioners by name.  It's impressive at first, but it goes on a bit long and seems like he's showing off.  It picks up after that, though, with more stuff about the Lib Dems being a substantial alternative.

2158, PH: Cameron backtracks a bit, agreeing with the others that "consensus" needs to be reached.

2157, PH: The heat has sapped out of the debate, and Brown is giving his best answer of the night.  Cameron is praising the work of carers now - solid enough, but the message isn't quite cutting through.

2155, PH: One of Brown's best lines so far: "Elderly people shouldn't have to choose between the home they own and the care they need."  Both he and Clegg are talking about reaching cross-party consensus on this issue.

2153, JGF: Here comes elderly care, Clegg and Brown will be ganging up on Cameron in the last answer.

2151, PH: Strikingly, Cameron says that the Lib Dems' plan to make the first £10,000 of income tax-free is a "beautiful policy".  But swiftly adds "but it's unaffordable".

2150, JGF: Brown comes back strongly on the NHS, he's getting better as this debate goes on.

2150, PH: Clegg really is trying to win the fiscal responsibility vote. He claims that the Tories can't increase health spending, while also cutting the deficit and cutting taxes.

2149, PH: Cameron hits back effectively over the cancer guarantee: "Cancer suruval rates are higher in Bulgaria ... the money hasn't worked."

2148, JGF: Cameron's answer on the NHS is highly personal but I think effective in demonstrating his personal bond with it.

2148, JGF: Charlie Whelan just tweeted that Tory spin doctors are looking grim but I can only see one in the room we're in.

2147, PH: Cameron ignores Brown's questions about whether the Tories would match Labour's guarantees.

2145, PH: Brown brings up Labour's guarantees. In theory, this should be an effective message - but it comes across quite garbled as Brown lists all the guarantees ... two weeks, waiting lists, days, 18, cancer.  Cameron leads by thanking the NHS for looking after his late son Ivan - saying that this has given him an understanding of the service.  Predictably, he mentions that the Tories are committed to increasing real-terms health spending.  But - unlike Brown - he doesn't spin this into a dividing line, instead adding that the Tories would reform the NHS and cut waste at the same time.  Clegg's point is that money should be diverted from wasteful bureaucracy towards the "frontline".

2142, PH: Health now.  An audience member asks how the parties see the future of the NHS, particularly in view of an ageing population.

1, PH: Cameron keeps mentioning helicopters in Afghanistan - you sense Brown will struggle to convince on this point.

2140, JGF: To my mind, Brown's most effective moment so far came when he talked about how he takes the decision to keep British forces in Afghanistan.

2139, JGF: Clegg keeps bringing up Trident but Cameron does an effecitve job of rebutting the argument that it's safe to junk trident. Be interested to see how the Chinese react to Cameron referencing them in his answer.

2138, PH: Scratch that - now Cameron and Clegg are arguing about Trident.  Clegg says that we can't afford it.  Cameron says we can't get rid of it in a dangerous world.  I'm with Clegg on this.  James is with Cameron...

2137, PH: Now Cameron and Clegg are teaming up (to some extent), agreeing that we need a proper defence review.

2136, PH: Brown makes what seems like a closely prepared statement on why we're in Afghanistan ("an answer I need to give to the British people").  It makes some important points, but sounds kinda stilted.

2135, JGF:
Clegg's ancedote about the anti-mine equipment made in Shefield is a strong and effective one.

2133, PH: Question on pay for the armed forces.  Clegg answers first, saying that money should be diverted away from things like Trident towards proper pay and equipment for troops.  Brown tries to tug at the heart strings, looking straight into the camera, saying that he wouldn't send troops into battle without the proper funding (yeah, tell that to the forces, Gordon).  Cameron echoes Clegg (minus the Trident part), buy saying that money should be diverted towards troops.

2131, JGF: Clegg is trying to present himself as the man who'll give it to you straight, judging by the early polling numbers this approach is working for him.

2130, PH: Clever tactic by Cameron: he moulds the debate by saying that "audiences at home will be thinking 'Why is Gordon Brown telling me that we can waste money now,only  for a tax rise next year?'"

2128, PH: Brown keeps saying that the Tory plans would "take money out of the economy".  Cameron doesn't take him on directly about this, but points out that business leaders support the Tory plans.  "Why is that?" he asks of Brown.

2126, JGF:
Brown keeps saying 'I fear', trying to paint the Tories as too much of a risk.

, PH: Cameron again leans on anecdotes - this time about waste in Whitehall.  Brown and Clegg round on him over whether you can actually save £6 billion.  Clegg refers to Cameron's plans as "papers clips and flower pots" - the Lib Dem leader is growing in confidence.

2125, JGF: Brown keeps using the phrase double-dip, I wonder how many voters know what that means.

2124, PH: No-one's mentioned debt yet.  That's the elephant in the room...

2122, PH: Cameron leads on the national insurance cut - he says we can cut £6 billion of waste now, to prevent a tax on jobs next year.  Clegg stresses that the leaders need to be honest with voters - adding that the Lib Dems would cut big ticket projects like Trident.  Brown says that we can't risk "taking £6 billion out of the economy".

, PH: Perhaps the key question of the night now: "How will you get the deficit down without damaging the economy?"

2119, PH: The camera keeps cutting to Brown when he's not speaking, and - more often than not - there's a smirk on his face as he listens to the others' answers. Not a good look.

2118, JGF:
Clegg zinger: 'The more they attack each other, the more they sound exactly the same'. That's the Lib Dem message for tonight.

2117, PH: Cameron defuses Brown's "cuts vs investment" innuendo, by bringing up examples of waste at the DCSF - including a £3 million "contemplation suite" for civl servants.

2116, JGF:
Clegg does very well at talking to the student who asked the education question, but Cameron's answer on discipline is strong--again, leading with a strong story.

, PH: Clegg is connecting well with the student who asked the question, addressing him directly.  By contrast, Brown sounds a bit robotic.

2113, PH: Cameron and Clegg are concentrating on opportunity, Brown is concentraing on funding - trying to create an investment v cuts dividing line.  Cameron adds that his children are going through the state system - so he understands parents' frustrations.

2111; JGF: Brown misses a chance to empthasise with the 17 year old who asked the question.

2110, PH: Education now. A 17 year-old asks about a system which seems "greedy".

2108, PH: Cameron rounds off the expenses round strongly. Stepping back, and pointing out that Labour and the Lib Dems don't seem to be in agreement after all. He says that we can all agree that things need to change.

2107, PH: Clegg doesn't want to play along with Brown's claims that there is common ground between Labour and the Lib Dems.  He pulls faces, and says that Brown hasn't implemented reform.

2106, JGF:
Brown going hard on the hereditary point, Brown's intended message is that they're still the same old Tories'

, PH: A curveball from Cameron. He says the Lib Dems should stop acting "holier than thou" - and adds that the Tories "have been relied too hevily on rich individuals for too long," and that the other parties have their porblems too.

2103, PH: Cameron making the obvious, but winning, point: why didn't Labour reform Parliament before now?

, PH: Expenses now.  All the three leaders apopt a sorrowful tone.  Brown is going out of his way to line up alongside Nick Clegg - he says that Labour and the Lib Dems want to reform the House of Commons and the Lords, but "I don't think David would agree with that".  Clegg distances himself, claiming that his party has remained relatively clean, and pushes his "old parties" prospectus.

2100, JGF: Cameron's use of 'Gordon Brown' in his comment on why we can't trust Brown's commitments on public spending suggests that he hopes it'll be clipped for the news

, PH: I'd say Cameron and Clegg inched it on crime - their personal, anecdotal approaches worked.

2058, JGF: Brown makes the airbrushed joke, he's had some decent one liners so far but none of them have really landed.

2057, JGF:
Clegg uses the questioner's name as he answers the crime question--very effective tactic.

, PH: Things heating up now, as Brown presses Cameron on whether the Tories will increase police spending. His hatred of the Tory leader is almost palpable as he says, "this isn't question time David, it's answer time."

2055, PH: Ooh, Brown tries to make a convoluted gag about Tory posters and - yes - Lord Ashcroft.  But it backfires as he runs out of time to make a more substantial point.

2054, JGF:
Cameron brings up drugs in link to crime. On both questions, Cameron has broadened it out on imigration by linking it to benefits and on crime by linking it to drugs

2053, PH:
Another anecdote from Cameron.  Brown is clear, if monotonous, about creating police forces that are "accountable to neighbourhoods".

2052, JGF:
Strong opener from Cameron, tells a story rather than listing statistics. The US experience shows that this is a more effective approach.

, PH: Crime, now.  Cameron tells a grim story about how a killer could be freed from prison after four years - impactful, but it doesn't leave him much time to set out Tory policies.  Clegg says there shuld be more police on the streets.  And Brown says that, "although official figures show that crime is falling," more needs to be done. He lists a few policies, like making sure police spend more time on the beat.

2048, JGF: Score Question One to Cameron

, PH: A sense already that Brown and Clegg are ganging up on Cameron - both concentrate on the Tories' plan to cap immigration.  Cameron standing up well, though.  He brings the subject, rightly, around to welfare reform.

2046, JGF: Brown is the first of the big two to say 'I agree with Nick'

, PH: Brown sounds technocratic as he talks about "net inward migration". Cameron says the government have had 13 years to sort this.

2042, PH: The leaders are given time to dissect each others arguments - but it's all quite civilised so far. Brown refers to "Nick", Cameron refers to "Gordon". Clegg makes punchy point about an immigration cap: "what happens if you reach the limit, and Manchester United or Manchester City want to buy a new player in the summer?" Good job he mentioned both teams, given the location.

2040, JGF: Cameron talks about people leaving the country and people coming here, Brown talks about net inward migration.

, PH: First question on immigration. Brown highlights Labour's points-system. Clegg says that immigrants should have a sponsor putting them forward to come into the country.  Cameron has the snappiest line about reducing immigration from the "hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands."

2037, JGF: Cameron says Labour has done some things right and he will keep them, plays the magnaminous card straight off.

, PH: Interesting move from Cameron, as he apologises on behalf of all politicians for the expenses scandal.  He adds that society needs to work together to fix things. Solid start.

2035, PH: The audio cuts out for the first second or two of Brown's pitch.  When it comes back in, he goes on about how he's rescued the country from recession. "Don't risk the recovery" seems to be his central message.

2035, JGF:
Clegg channels Bobby Kennedy in his opening statement.

2035, PH: Clegg kicks off the leaders' opening pitches. He's direct - staring into the camera - and reprises his message from yesterday: saying that the other two are the "old parties" and that you should vote Lib Dem is you want a "fairer society".

2033, PH: Alistair Stewart very excitable. For those who care, Clegg's wearing a yellow tie; Cameron, blue; and Brown, pink.

2032, PH: If you're not by a TV, you can watch it here.

2030, PH: So here we go, the time is now, just do it, etc.  The leaders' debate is upon us.  Stay tuned for live coverage.