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Live blog of the Sky News leaders' debate


Jonathan Isaby, Paul Goodman and Tim Montgomerie will be live blogging the Sky News Leaders' Debate here at 8pm...

7.25pm David Cameron has just arrived at the venue in Bristol, accompanied by Samantha. Clegg is already there and Brown is yet to arrive.

Tonight David Cameron will be stage left, Nick Clegg will be at the centre podium and Gordon Brown will be stage right.

8pm And they're off! Adam Boulton is charing tonight's debate, concentrating on international affairs in the first half.

8.01pm Brown makes the first opening statement. He has had a hair cut an wears a red tie. He calls for a majority Labour Government

8.02pm Cameron: The country wants change, but what sort of change? The Conservatives will give you a new team. Families are the bedrock of society, we need to cut government waste. And we need to keep our borders secure and our country safe.

8.03pm Clegg says the old parties have let the country down - mentions the invasion of Iraq in opening statement, and his desire to see the world rid of nuclear weapons. Mentions his mother was freed from a PoW camp.

8.04pm PG Surprisingly, Brown makes strongest, clearest start, tackling his biggest weakness - his unpopularity and woodenness - head on.

8.05pm Question one is on Europe: Cameron says he wants to be in Europe but not run by Europe, to coin a phrase and talks about the need to cut bureaucracy and reclaim some powers while still trading with Europe.

8.07pm Clegg says we are stronger together and weaker apart, though he sasy Europe needs to reform.

8.08pm Brown claims that 3 million jobs depend on Europe.

8.08pm JI: Clegg and now Cameron are talking straight into the barrel of the camera; Brown is struggling to do so.

8.09pm Cameron say people feel cheated that the Lib Desm and Labour didn't give us the referendum on Lisbon. You don't send us to Westminster to give powers away. Clegg only says he will give an in or out referendum next time there is a big treaty change (ie no guarantee with the lifetime of the next parliament)

8.11pm Cameron says an in or out referendum is a con. Clegg talks about his time negotiating in Europe and says that the EU allows us to punch above our weight. Brown claims the ECR group in Brussels are extremists...

8.13pm Clegg smears the ECR as a group of anti Semites and homophobes.

8.14pm TM: There is only one Eurosceptic in this debate. David Cameron. Both Brown and Clegg are defending the EU.

8.14pm Brown claims Clegg and Cameron are like his kids arguing at bath time.

8.15pm PG: No "I agree with Nick" this week from Brown, who's sharpened up his act as well as his haircut since last week.

8.16pm TM: Cameron was good in the Europe section but he should have hammered Clegg on the Euro. The Euro is a much more real issue than talking about Britain's place on the UN Security Council.

8.16pm Question two asks whether Britain would take part in future multinational anti-terrorist operations.

8.17pm JI: Clegg fudges his answer by talking about equipping troops rather than answering the question. Brown says we must tackle al-Qaeda wherever it is.

8.18pm Cameron says he would want to think what was in the national interest in terms of deciding whether to participate in the future, an also talks about the need to provide equipment, and having a political strategy to get out. He says he has concerns over whether enough is being done on that front in Afghanistan.

8.20pm Cameron says he "completely agrees" with Gordon Brown over the bravery of our forces.

8.22pm FACTCHECK: Brown said that Climate Change was "one of my priorities" - only since Cameron became Tory leader though: between 1997 and 2005, Brown mentioned the word ‘climate’ only eleven times in total in his Pre-Budget and Budget speeches, an average of only once per year. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown made only five major speeches on the environment, all after the start of 2005.

8.23pm PG: Yet again, no real engagement between the three - all looking into the camera, working harder, higher energy levels than last week.  Cameron clearly different from others on Europe - and has now gone directly for Clegg over Trident.  Controlled but aggressive.

8.25pm Borwn tells Clegg to "get real" on the threat from North Korea an Iran etc re nuclear weapons. No "I agree with Nick" this week.

8.25pm JI: Good to see Cameron and Brown gang up on Clegg re Trident. Cameron says "I agree with Gordon".

8.25pm TM: Great to see Cameron hitting Clegg hard on Trident. Cameron is 100% right to say we need an independent nuclear deterrent in an unsafe and uncertain world. Great stuff from Brown, telling Clegg to "get real", "get real" on Britain's nuclear defences. Cameron jokes "I agree with Gordon"

8.26pm Next question: What are the leaders personally to combat climate change? Brown highlights his solar panels on his roof and the fact he rarely uses planes.

8.27pm Cameron talks about proper insulation of his house and his opposition to third runway at Heathrow and favouring high speed rail

8.29pm PG: Cameron ahead on Tweetminster sentiment scores - a debate monitor measure.

8.30pm FACTCHECK: Brown claimed earlier that the Tories in Europe are allied to extremists. Labour are allied to a Romanian party whose president has falsely denied the Holocaust in Romania, parties that have campaigned against gay rights in Lithuania and Bulgaria and ex-Communist parties – their Polish allies include two MEPs officially named as collaborators with the Communist secret police.

8.31pm PG: Brown's slogan of the evening - "Let's get real".  Cameron's is - "If I were your Prime Minister" - he's now used it three times.

8.32pm TM: This is MUCH better from Cameron than last week. He's getting his vote winning hits in; eg in strongly stating his opposition to 3rd Heathrow runway. A massive issue in and around London marginal constituencies.

8.33pm Clegg claims that he does not have a "theological opposition" to nuclear power - just that it is very expensive and takes a long time to build power stations.

8.34pm FACTCHECK: Clegg said it was essential to look at “whether we're providing the troops on the front line with the resource resources they need. I think we're not  spending money on the right things.  I wouldn't carry on  spending money on the euro fighter typhoon, the third tranche of that euro fighter project, billions of pounds.” This is untrue: According to Lib Dem manifesto, Eurofighter savings pay for their stimulus package and deficit – not more money for troops.

8.35pm JI: Excellent CCHQ rebuttal operation tonight. The messages are coming thick and fast with details of inconsistencies, some of which I am sharing with you as factchecks.

8.36pm JI: Good to hear Cameron accusing critics of hypocrisy for calling the late Polish President a great statesmen whilst attacking him and his party as extremists.

8.37pm Next question is about the Pope's visit and what people think of it.

8.37pm PG: Wow!  We have a question on the Pope before one on Iraq - who'd have thought it.  Clegg's just come clean, to his credit, on not being "a man of faith".  Cameron didn't fall for the question's trap and balanced support for Pope's visit with criticism of Church's record on paedophiles - he's much stronger tonight, and showing a welcome tendency to mark out a distinctive position on Europe: back to it again and again.

8.40pm FACTCHECK: Brown said: "My first thoughts will always be for our dedicated forces, for our troops, for our professional forces". Lord Guthrie said Brown was ‘the most unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer as far as defence was concerned'.

8.42pm Brown trumpets Labour's introduction of civil partnerships, and regrets the Catholic Church's position on contraception.

8.43pm TM: Good answer from Cameron on faith. He praises faith-based organisations but urges the Catholic Church to do more to come to terms with the historical abuse of young people. He should have taken opportunity to say he supports lower abortion limit. Most Britons support more protection for the unborn child. He should also have highlighted LibDem opposition to faith-based schools.

8.43pm Close of official questions on international affairs - without a question on Iraq. Will it be returned to later.

8.44pm Next question - How to restore faith in politics?

8.44pm JI Clegg says all parties have had party funding problems - will he admit to the problems with Michael Brown? Not likely.

8.45pm FACTCHECK: Clegg said: “I have a very simple attitude towards our relationship with America.  It's an immensely immensely important special relationship”. BUT Clegg has said that the special relationship “is over”. Earlier this week he said: ‘I think it's sometimes rather embarrassing the way Conservative and Labour politicians talk in this kind of slavish way about the special relationship.’

8.46pm PG: Cameron still ahead on Tweetminster - but very close between the three.

8.47pm JI: Clegg does not take the opportunity to address the issue of his donations when Adam Boulton brings it up. Weak.

8.48pm All three leaders covering familiar ground on need to clean up politics. Cameron talks about the need for more open primaries and to avoid permanent hung parliaments.

8.49pm PG: Brown much better tonight - until expenses.  Will Clegg's evasion on Boulton's question register with watchers.  CCGQ's Twitter operation this evening immeasurably improved from last week - tweets from Pickles picking up weaknesses in Brown and Clegg arguments.

8.51pm JI Cameron strong on saying that people who try do do the right thing are punished by Labour. Brown responds by trying to claim that raising the inheritance tax threshold helps only 3,000 people.

8.53pm Clegg attacks MPs from the old parties who flipped houses. Cameron accuses Clegg of trying to put Lib Dems on a pedestal when all parties had issues with expenses.

8.54pm PG: Brown says explicitly that MPs should have no outside interests - has he told Byers and Hoon?

8.55pm Next question - is the level of state pension a just reward?

8.56pm FACTCHECK: Brown says no punishment is too great for MPs who broke the law, but he took months to throw accused MPs out of the Labour Party.

8.57pm Cameron explains he is funding the pledge to link pensions and earnings by increasing the retirement age.

8.58pm TM: I'm feeling a bit faint, Alastair Campbell says something nice about Cameron

8.58pm FACTCHECK: Brown said “What [MPs] did was completely unacceptable and no punishment is too great for them if they have to go before the courts and answer for their crimes”. BUT Labour proposed a maximum sentence of 1 year for MPs who break the expenses rule. The usual penalty for fraud is 10 years. AND there is the hypocrisy that Tthe Labour Party’s lawyers are representing the three Labour MPs on trial, and receiving public funding from legal aid.

8.59pm JI: Cameron good to accuse Labour of "lies" over frightening elderly people in a campaign with suggestions of what the Tories would cut from elderly people.

9.00 pm PG: The post-election polls may not show this - perhaps voters will have absorbed as much debating information as they can - but Cameron is infinitely improved from last week: on expenses, he went for Clegg over his kitchen; on pensions, he's just gone directly for Brown over Labour's leaflet lies.  To me, Clegg seems squeezed between the two this evening.

9.01pm TM: Funniest moment of evening: Gordon to Grace: "Women - and you are one of them"! Grace is delighted to have this confirmed :-)

9.03pm JI: Cameron was very strong indeed attacking Labour over their lie-filled leaflets. Brown's "I did not authorise any such leaflet" was pathetic.

9.04pm TM: Cameron's anger at Brown's pensions scares was his best moment of debate. He showed genuine, legitimate anger at Labour's dirty machine that tries to win votes by dishonestly scaring pensioners about Tory intentions. Brown - unbelievably - disowns Labour leaflets, claiming he had nothing to do with them.

9.04: PG: CCHQ really piling into Brown on his claim that he didn't authorise scare leaflets - that claim will be rigorously fact-checked!

9.05pm Next question - is it time for a government of all the talents from all parties? Cameron says thee are times and issues when parties should work together but it is not in the long term interests of the country to do so all the time.

9.06pm FACTCHECK: Clegg said: "It is a fact that there are a number of MPs in both the old parties who flip their home from one to the next paying from your taxpayer funded expenses to buy properties, do them up, sell them, buy them, do them up, sell them and then pocket the difference in personal profit who still haven't been held to account." BUT four Liberal Democrats living in flats switched to a higher taxpayer-funded rent in return for a cash payment from their landlord, which they then pocketed.

9.07 PG: CCHQ claiming that Cameron ahead in Sky poll.

9.08pm Cameron says "we'll do our best to make it work" if there is a hung parliament. he points out that thee is a fundamental disagreement between the Tories and Lab/LibDem on national insurance, for example.

9.09pm FACTCHECK: Nick Clegg said: “Something which I'm sure you're familiar with which is that there are so many other costs which the elderly have to confront which really do make it extremely difficult to make ends meet.  Fuel costs, we've just had a very cold winter, it's a good example.” BUT the Lib Dem manifesto says that Winter fuel payments will be cut for pensioners aged between 60 and 65 (p18).

9.11pm Brown says Cameron is a risk to the economy by wanting to take £6 billion out of the economy this year (and that Clegg is a risk to the nation's security). Cameron returns to the question by talking baout the national security council he would create.

9.12pm TM: On hung parliament question Cameron sensibly recorded how he's co-operated with Labour on Trident and education reforms. But he should have challenged Nick Clegg to rule out keeping Labour in power. Big missed opportunity.

9.13pm JI: Good line from Cameron saying that you can see the kind of bickering you get in a hung parliament situation.

9.14pm FACTCHECK: Brown said: “When I became Prime Minister ... we brought people in from business”. Yes. But they all left - Stephen Carter, Digby Jones etc.

9.16pm PG: Not once this evening have we had an "I agree with Nick" from Brown.  He hasn't legitimised Clegg, from his point of view, as he did last week.  The consequence is that Clegg has been squeezed a bit by the other two.  Will it make a difference in the post-debate polls?

9.17pm Next question is on controlling immigration. Brown attacks Clegg's policy of the amnesty. Cameron highlights the benefits of immigration, but says it has been too high in recent years. The other two parties are not really adressing this, hence the need for a cap on non-EU migrants.

9.19pm FACTCHECK: Brown claimed he didn't authorise scare tactics against the Tories, yet in his speech to Welsh Labour conference he said: “And so today I feel compelled to warn you about the risk the Tories pose… Ask them why when times are hard for families they wanted an end in Wales to free bus passes for the elderly and free prescriptions.”

9.20pm JI: Again Brown attacks Lib Dems on immigration, as does Cameron. Over a variety of issues tonight the two Prime Ministerial candidates are putting the Lib Dem leader on the sidelines.

9.22pm PG: CCHQ have links up to the Labour lie leaflets that Brown claimed not to have authorised - quick work.  Michael Gove apparently in spin room tonight - was on Question Time last week.

9.24pm JI: Cameron sounding the most authoritative on immigration. He makes the point that Labour have been in charge for 13 years and let it get out of control, and mocks the Lib Dem regional migration plan.

9.26pm Closing statements begin with Brown.

9.27pm JI: He's tries sum up the issues addressed tonight but doesn't refer to any specific questions. Could have been written beforehand.

9.28pm Cameron says Brown sounds like he is trying to frighten people. Cameron says it is time for a clean break from 13 years of failure.

9.29pm Clegg doesn't do his namecheck of everyone who asked questions like last week but does namecheck the issues adressed in the questions, He claims that things are starting to change and that this time it can be different.

9.31: CCHQ's line is that Cameron looked like a Prime Minister.  He was certainly sharper, crisper and cleaner.  Clegg was less fresh, Brown more aggressive - now we'll see what the voters think.  Fox on TV now delivering a strong line.


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