James Forsyth

Stakes raised ahead of Thursday night’s debate

Stakes raised ahead of Thursday night's debate
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The stakes have been raised, at least psychologically, for Thursday night’s debate. Today’s YouGov poll has Labour four points ahead, in contrast to a two point Tory lead in their last survey. This is being seen in Westminster as a Paxman bounce for Miliband. If this Labour leads is still in place at the end of the Easter weekend, Tory nerves will begin to fray.

Thursday’s debate will be a crowded affair with seven leaders on stage. Despite it being a two hour debate, there’ll only be time for four questions. As I say in the Mail On Sunday, the debate will almost certainly turn into Cameron versus the rest as they all try and go after the sitting Prime Minister. Being the focus of the debate, though, presents him with an opportunity: the chance to drive home the Tory message that the choice is between him and some chaotic and unstable combination of the others.

One thing that will determine the tone of the debate is who stands where and I understand that lots for that are being drawn on Monday. Ukip, who are acutely aware that this is the one time Farage will share a stage with Cameron in the campaign, want to be as close to Cameron as possible. Farage is hoping to go after him for pledging to increase aide spending while not committing to spend the Nato minimum of 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

But I suspect that the debate might not be won by any of these men. There’ll be three female leaders on stage on Thursday night, all of whom are relatively unknown in UK terms. Of these three, the Scottish First Miniter Nicola Sturgeon is the most formidable debater and I suspect she might be the most impressive performer on Thursday night.