Miliband challenges Cameron to one-on-one showdown
Ed Miliband survived his TV showdown with four other opposition party leaders last night as he staked his claim to be prime minister but came under repeated fire for supporting "Tory cuts".
After a heated 90-minute live BBC debate, the Labour leader challenged David Cameron to a head-to-head debate before next month's election. Mr Cameron stayed away from last night's five-way debate and Nick Clegg was excluded.
The third of four election debates featured Mr Miliband, Ukip's Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett of the Greens, the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood. Senior Labour figures were nervous that Mr Miliband might be outgunned. Although the three women leaders often put on a united front against him, he stuck to his line on reducing the deficit in a "balanced and fair way".
Ms Sturgeon won applause from the 200-strong audience in London when she declared: "It is a disgrace David Cameron is not here to defend his record."
In his closing remarks, Mr Miliband told Mr Cameron: "If you think this election is about leadership, then debate me one on one... and let the people decide."
After the debate, Labour said Mr Cameron was the "clear loser", claiming that Mr Miliband looked like "an alternative prime minister".
A snap poll by Survation gave Mr Miliband victory. But Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative health secretary, said: "What we saw tonight was a preview of the threat Britain faces from Ed Miliband's coalition of chaos. An Ed Miliband government, propped up by Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, will mean more borrowing, more debt and more taxes."
Ms Sturgeon led the attack on Labour's spending plans, accusing Mr Miliband of pursuing a "Tory-lite" agenda. She said anti-austerity parties in a hung parliament would be "holding [Labour] to account and making them bolder".
Mr Miliband claimed that the SNP's plans for Scotland to have full tax and political autonomy within the UK would cost £7.6bn.
Ms Sturgeon, Ms Wood and Ms Bennett all vowed never to "prop up" a Conservative-led government and urged Labour to join forces with them to block Mr Cameron's route to Downing Street. The SNP leader said: "If he is prepared to be better than the Tories than I'm prepared to work with him."
Mr Miliband argued that Labour was the only party that could guarantee Mr Cameron's removal but retorted that he had "profound differences" with the SNP.