No outright winner in TV leaders' debate on UK election
There was no clear winner in the only TV debate pitting seven political leaders against one another ahead of the May 7 British general election.
Ed Miliband topped one poll, the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon another and the Labour leader tied with Primer Minister David Cameron and Ukip leader Nigel Farage in first place in a third.
After the prime minister refused to face Mr Miliband in a head-to-head televised debate, the ITV showdown was the only chance for the two men to confront one another on key election issues like the economy, jobs, immigration and health.
Mr Cameron accused the Labour leader of planning more debt, taxes, borrowing and spending and urged voters to let Conservatives complete their "long-term economic plan", telling them: "What my plan is about is basically one word - security. Security for you, for your family, for our country."
In a clear effort to bolster his credentials as an alternative premier, Mr Miliband repeatedly described what he would do "if I am prime minister". He accused Mr Cameron of wanting to talk about the past rather than the future, and said: "Some people will tell you that this is as good as it gets for Britain. I say Britain can do so much better than it has done over the last five years."
Mr Farage accused the other leaders of being "all the same" and said he was the only one who wanted to control immigration by pulling Britain out of the European Union.
But he clashed with Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood, who accused him of "scaremongering" and said he should be ashamed of himself after he raised the issue of foreign nationals receiving HIV treatment on the NHS and said: "We've got to put our own people first".
Nick Clegg sought to distance the Liberal Democrats from the two biggest parties, directly taking on Mr Cameron over what he termed "ideologically-driven cuts" and challenging Mr Miliband to use the opportunity presented by the debate to apologise publicly for "crashing the economy" as part of the last Labour administration.
At one point, Mr Cameron was interrupted by a heckler from the 200-strong studio audience, Victoria Prosser, who demanded to be heard as she protested at the treatment of military veterans, shouting: "There's more of us than there is of them and they are not listening to us."
Explaining her intervention, she said: "David Cameron mentioned giving a fair deal to everybody in this country, including people such as our fine military service people. Yes, they are fine. But they are not treated fine after they have left the army, when they are in poverty and destitution, homeless on the streets and no hope of getting housed. He is using their name just to garner votes, because it might be a vote winner."
Mr Farage claimed an early advantage, with 24pc of viewers polled at the halfway point by ComRes for ITV News rating him the best performer, ahead of Mr Miliband on 21pc and Mr Cameron on 19pc. But by the end, the picture was less clear, with Mr Miliband leading an ICM poll in 'The Guardian', taking 25pc of support, just ahead of Mr Cameron on 24pc, with Mr Farage on 19pc.
A ComRes post-debate poll had Mr Miliband, Mr Cameron and Mr Farage tied in first place on 21pc, with Ms Sturgeon on 20pc. And a YouGov poll had the SNP leader top with 28pc backing, followed by Mr Farage (20pc), Mr Cameron (18pc) and Mr Miliband (15pc).
Mr Cameron enjoyed a strong lead in a key section of the ComRes poll, rated most capable of leading the country by 40pc of the 1,120 viewers taking part, well ahead of Mr Miliband on 28pc.
Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband clashed on the economy, with the prime minister saying the Labour leader "still thinks the last Labour government didn't tax too much, borrow too much and spend too much".
He added: "And if you don't understand the mistakes of the past, you can't provide the leadership of the future."
A Miliband administration would "go into your monthly payslip and take your money out" in taxes, he warned.
Mr Miliband insisted that Labour would cut the deficit every year and balance the books, but "do it in a fairer and a better way than has been tried for the last five years", increasing the minimum wage to £8 and banning exploitative zero-hours contracts.