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Live blog of the ITV Leaders' Debate


From 8.30pm Jonathan Isaby, Tim Montgomerie and Paul Goodman will be live blogging the leaders' debate, which will be broadcast live on ITV1 and Radio 4...

Non-verbatim highlights will appear in this type

Comments from Jonathan, Tim and Paul will appear in italics

8.29pm Debate about to start...  To read Tory Twitterers through the debate, follow this link.

8.30pm And we're off. Cameron in blue tie, Brown in pink tie, Clegg in yellow tie.

8.35pm Clegg gets first opening statement - "We can do something different this time"

8.36pm Brown gets second opening statement: It all comes down to getting a strong economy and avoiding  double dip recession

8.37pm Cameron begins by apologising for the expenses scandal, and says that not all Labour did was bad.

JI: Interesting that in opening statements Clegg and Cameron spoke directly to camera; Brown addressed audience.

PG: Brown staking everything on recovery v risk strategy - nothing on society.  Cameron opening on expenses very artful - and "we're all in this together".  Clegg trying to head off election as choice between two big parties.

8.38pm First question is on immigration

8.41pm JI: Looks like Brown is wearing too much red lipstick!

8.42pm JI: All three are using real life examples of people they've met to discuss immigration cases. Interesting that Cameron refers to Brown as "Gordon". Will he reciprocate by calling David Cameron by his first name?! (I think not)

Picture 6
8.44pm TM: Very good answer from Cameron on immigration. He links the issue to pressure on housing, environment and public services. Says immigration is "too much" and will bring numbers down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. He says a black man who served in the Royal Navy told him that immigration was too much. Cameron says it is "out of control".

8.45pm: PG: Was it my hearing, or did Brown just say that we need to "tighten the skills" brought into Britain?

8.46pm JI: Cameron commanding discussion on immigration: Brown tries to interrupt unsuccessfully, and Alistair Stewart goes to Clegg for more instead.

8.47pm: PG: Very early days, but Brown needs a clear win tonight, and he's not commanding the discussion.

TM: Good to see Cameron probing Nick Clegg on his crazy immigration scheme. The Tory leader jokes that about Liberals erecting guards at regional borders.

8.48pm: We are onto how to make the country safer with question two.

8.54pm JI: None of the trio saying anything remarkable about law and order in my view - though Brown outrageously accuses the Conservatives of not intending to fund the police properly. Cameron says that it is important to get police ointo the front line - "crime fighters not form fillers"

8.58 PG: Clegg much less impressive on specifics than on his general line of attack.  Brown couldn't resist his Ashdown joke, but at last on front foot questioning Cameron.  Cameron insisting that what matters isn't so much the money but how it's used.

8,59pm TM: The exchanges between the leaders are quite robust and direct. The format is no way near as stilted as I feared and expected.

9pm Question Three on MPs' expenses.

9.01pm JI: Both Cameron and Brown have been citing their parents as inspirations. For each question Brown appears to have three pre-prepared points which he opens with "There are three things I want to say..."

9.02pm JI: Brown answers the question first and is able to get in with the recall powers and referendum power policies he took from the Tories. Cameron majors on cutting the cost of politics through reducing the numbers of MPs etc. Clegg is the first to mention Lord Ashcroft.

9.06pm TM: Brown has at least THREE TIMES said "I agree with Nick". His courting of the LibDems is at 100mph.

9.08pm: PG: Brown trying to rope Clegg in to gang up on Cameron - presages his strategy for a hung Parliament.  Clegg resisting the invite and sticking to his "plague on both your houses" strategy".  Cameron did well on Clegg's dodgy donor.

9.09pm TM: Showing signs of warming up and relaxing, Gordon Brown's best moment of the debate comes when he attacks Cameron for supporting the hereditary principle. Cameron accuses Clegg of a "holier than thou" attitude and asks if he has repaid the £2.5m money given to the LibDems by a man now on the run from the police.

9.10pm Ex Observer journalist Gaby Hinsliff Tweets: "Cameron is drawing serious advantage from being in the middle of stage. makes him look in control. and centrist."

9.10pm Next question is on education.

9.14pm JI: Cameron is the only of the trio to mention discipline in schools. Used that good line about treating teachers like children and children like adults. (Clegg in his second bite of the cherry does then mention discipline)

9.17pm JI: Good line from Cameron in saying the DCSF is not known as the Department for Comfort and Soft Furnishings for nothing.

9.16pm PG: I keep coming back to the key point.  Brown needs a knock-out win.  Cameron merely needs a draw.  Simply by being there, Clegg is mixing the debate up and establishing a presence.  Best guess is that he will gain from this debate - and prevent any chance of Brown establishing dominance.

9.20pm TM: Good, if predictable, line from Clegg: "The more they attack each other, the more they sound the same."

9.21pm Next question brings us onto the economy and dealing with the deficit (I thought that in two weeks' time??)

9.23: PG: Perhaps as important as the debate battle is the spin war.  Campbell and Prescott blogging aggressively on Twitter, knocking every answer and trying to establish an anti-Cameron mood and consensus.  CCHQ are responding rapidly to Brown lies in e-mails to journalists, but I can see less on Twitter.

9.25pm JI: Cameron's position centre stage really is aiding him in giving him a command over the debate.

9.28pm Early Sky News polling shows Cameron 36, Clegg 36, Brown 28.

9.28: Clegg leading on YouGov tracking poll, Cameron behind him, Brown well behind both.  Tweetminster shows three in the same order. 

9.31pm Cameron: People will think it extraordinary that Brown wants to keep wasting money to aid the recovery.

9.32pm Next question on the underequipped armed forces.

9.33pm JI: Brown claiming to have been doing lots to properly equip armed forces. Cameron also pays tribute to them, but says we have not done enough for them and cites Labour efforts to cut training for the TA. He could have been angrier about this subject in my view.

9.36pm TM: Sickening but Brown sounds convincing in his tribute to the troops.  

9.37pm JI: Over an hour in, time going very quickly!

9.38 pm PG: No winner from this defence section.  It's slowed the debate down.  Striking that the number of tweets on Tim's list of main tweeters of all political views has dropped off.

9.40pm TM: Clegg has mentioned his Sheffield constituency three or four times and there's 30 minutes to go. Is he worried about his backyard?

9.41pm TM: Best attack so far from Cameron on Clegg - against his wish to scrap Trident. We live in an uncertain world, the Tory leader says. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon I don't want Britain to have given up the ultimate protection.

9.42pm Next question is on health.

9.44pm David Cameron pays big tribute to the NHS and its staff for what they have done for his family.  Brown keeps attacking on Conservatives not matching Labour's guarantees - he's been robotically prepped.  Clegg attacking Cameron from the right on the NHS - arguing for "savings in the NHS".

9.48pm PG: The NHS ought to be very difficult territory for Cameron, but having established his bona fides right at the start - with his reference back to the death of his son - he's more than holding his own against Brown's attack - counter-attacking now on Brown's NIC rise.

9.50pm TM: Cameron has been at his best at the beginning and end of the debate. Strong on immigration and in talking about his plan to provide cancer care drugs.

9.52pm Final question is on care for the elderly.

9.55pm PG: Brown hasn't won the debate - but Labour are still piling into the spin war.  CCHQ seem to be rebutting Brown's facts rather than laying into his performance - exposing weaknesses, spotting sections of the debate where he fell behind, helping to shape opinion.  They should be doing better.  It's taken Guido to tweet a supportive Sky poll showing Clegg and Cameron neck to neck, Brown behind.

9.59pm TM: I'd be VERY interested in the time given to each leader. I think Clegg got most.

10pm Closing statements. Clegg first, again trying to talk direct to camera but referring to notes in which he seeks to namecheck all the questioners and keeps referring to notes.

10.02pm Brown closes in saying he was especially struck by the NHS question and then goes on tot talk about the need to secure the recovery and not take money out of the economy etc etc. Claims the NIC rise to protect the health service. Again talks ot the audience.

10.04pm Cameron: There have been repeated attempts to frighten you; but choose hope over fear. We can do more incredible things, but real change comes when we work together.

10.06pm End of debate!

10.07pm PG: My verdict.  Dull audience stuck to the rules, Stewart peevish and unauthoritative, no clear winner and the debate thus went much by the book.  Clegg did well simply by being there, and was energetic in attacking both main parties in an equidistant way.  Brown stuck dully to his attack lines, but didn't break through.  Cameron strongest at beginning and end, and polling fine on Sky.  Should be broadly satisfied, but CCHQ needs to get more aggressive in the spin war.

10.14pm TM: My verdict: No gaffes. Clegg used his time in the sun well. Brown survived. Cameron best on immigration, cancer but wasn't hard enough v Brown. But, overall, unlikely to be a gamechanger.

10.15pm JI: Cameron commanded the debate for much of the evening, aided by his central position. This was especially evident on the wide shots. I think he could have been angrier with Brown on various issues about Labour failure, but suspect the advice has been that too much anger is too negative for viewers.


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