The Full Election Story: 7 April

  • Leaders clash over tax and economy at last PM's questions
  • Gordon Brown says he wants fixed term parliaments
  • David Cameron says NI rise would kill the recovery
  • Nick Clegg attacks Labour and Tory 'corrupt' politics

2400Politics is again on the front pages on Thursday, but several of the papers return to their more traditional allegiances, rather than focus on the campaign as a whole. The Daily Mail attacks Labour's jobs record while the Daily Telegraph goes for the government over National Insurance. The Guardian, however, claims a senior Tory adviser will stand to benefit personally from David Cameron's spending cuts.

2250The Conservatives are under fire on the front page of tomorrow's Guardian. The paper claims that Sir Peter Gershon, one of the men behind the Tories' public spending cuts plan, will benefit personally from them as the chair of a private sector healthcare group.

2246Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw tells the BBC's Newsnight that he would be happy to work with other parties if there are policies they agree on. He thinks Labour and the Lib Dems are aligned on electoral reform - whereas the Conservatives have "killed" efforts the government has made to squeeze through last-minute reforming legislation.

2242The Daily Telegraph on Thursday leads with the headline, "Brown 'at war with bosses'". It says business leaders are "angered" that Gordon Brown claims they have been deceived by the Conservatives over National Insurance policy.

2239Dipping into the BBC's Newsnight programme, Michael Crick is in the Liverpool Riverside constituency, which has had the lowest turnout of the whole UK in several past elections. Today he found considerable scepticism, with two pub-goers saying that nothing ever changes for them regardless of who is in power. A solider, however, told our correspondent that if one party offered more for the armed forces they could win his vote.

2228Tomorrow's Times has the front page headline, "The Cameron Question", with the subtitle, "The best thing since sliced bread? Not everyone is convinced". It's a reference to the Tory leader's visit to Warburton's bakery today.

2225We've now got the first edition of tomorrow's Independent - and they've steered clear of all things election for their main front page story. There is a plug for a political piece at the top though, asking whether parents influence how their children go on to vote.

2220But Foreign Secretary David Miliband says there can be no "ifs and buts" about discrimination and Chris Grayling's comments show he is "completely unfit" to be home secretary. Lib Dem Sir Menzies Campbell agrees, saying Mr Grayling has "form" for making unwise comments, citing a recent example about alleged misuse of crime figures.

2215Comments made by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling about the right of bed and breakfast owners to turn away gap couples have come up on the BBC's Question Time. For the Tories, Theresa May says it is clear from Mr Grayling's voting record that he supports anti-discrimination laws.

2212The front pages of the first editions are beginning to drop in our inbox. The Daily Mail's headline is "Labour's betrayal of British workers", saying 1.67 million jobs since 1997 "have gone to a foreigner".

2125Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke tells the BBC's Campaign Show that he has had "some scepticism" in the past about giving tax breaks to married couples - something the Tories say they would do if they won the election. He says he has been married for a long time and doubts his wife has been putting up with him for tax reasons.

2120Speaking on the BBC's Question Time, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has once again defended the planned National Insurance rise and says the Conservatives have "no money" to reverse the move as they have promised. He plays down the backing the Tories have got from business leaders, saying that no-one running a company would ever refuse a tax cut if one was offered.

2116The Spectator magazine's Rod Liddle tells the BBC he doesn't think ordinary voters are actually that bothered about the issue of National Insurance. Instead, he reckons they care more about possible moves to reform and clean up politics.

2112Anne McElvoy, of the London Evening Standard, tells the BBC's Campaign Show that in election campaigns parties are trying to claim authority for their policies, but sometimes they have to claim it from others - and that's exactly what the Tories have done with the business leaders. She thinks Gordon Brown has put himself in a very "silly" position over the affair.

2107Not everybody in the Labour Party is happy that Gordon Brown used the D-word - "deceived" - again today to describe what he thought had happened to the business leaders who have backed the Tories' National Insurance policy, the BBC News channel's chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg says.
Laura Kuenssberg

2103We're going to dip into the BBC News Channel's Campaign Show now for some analysis on today's events, particularly the row over National Insurance.

2056Just a bit of forward-planning for Thursday... Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is expected to travel to Scotland, where he is due to give a speech attacking Conservative tax plans.

2051Betsan Powys, BBC Wales' political editor, has been out on the campaign trail with Plaid Cymru's leader Ieuan Wyn Jones. "Spelling out what is on your party's shopping list in the event of a hung Parliament is one thing. Convincing voters to buy the argument that you might have a key role to play after a close-run contest is another," she says. She adds that if doors were answered at all, those answering were more concerned "about plans for an opencast mine on their doorstep, or the lack of support from the council for a young man and his pregnant girlfriend".

2039Sarah Seymour from Winchester writes: Having read both the Conservatives and the Labour parties policies for this coming election I am of the firm belief that this election is not about what Britain wants and needs as a country and nation, but a personal battle between Cameron and Brown. As a first time voter, I am baffled by this immature quarrelling and bickering within government.
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2021Richard Reeves, director of think tank Demos, tells the BBC the Conservatives seem to be doing better in terms of policies that are gaining immediate popular support - such as on National Insurance. But he says Labour's plans - such as lowering the voting age and offering a referendum on a new electoral system - are actually much more radical and would offer more long-term change to people's lives.

2009Left-leaning magazine The New Statesman is running Guffwatch - in which it picks on the politician it thinks has been most verbose each day. First victim - Gordon Brown. Analysing his speech on political reform, it says he mixed metpahors involving "a road, a revolving door and a closed shop" within a few breaths. "Wo there, Gordon. Are you creating a metaphorical townscape? the Statesman asks.

1958 Daniel Finkelstein, in the Times, thinks the live television debates may lead to less accountability from the party leaders, not more, because the time taken to prepare for them may mean they do fewer big television interviews. "Is this a good swap? Not necessarily. The debates are so controlled and rule-bound that they may be rather dull in the end. And they may provide the public with less information than a proper grilling."

1936Local BBC reporter Chris Doidge has sent me a little tidbit about Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, who he says "appears to have forgotten one of his economic policies at an event in Derby". Speaking to students, Mr Cable was asked what the Lib Dems would do about internships. He answered that his party's policies on income tax would help young people starting in work. In a radio interview later, he was pressed on whether people on internships could be given anything specific, to which he said, "We can make sure people aren't exploited." Our reporter points out that the Lib Dems' website says they would "pay any young person completing an internship or work experience £55 a week for three months". Must have slipped his mind...

1931Pictures are coming in of some top Labour brass manning the phones, telethon-style, at their London headquarters. Gordon Brown and his wife, along with Harriet Harman, Ed Balls and others- they're all smiling and nodding enthusiastically as they talk to voters. If you've had a call, we want to know what was said...

1925Spoke too soon, David Cameron has taken his jacket off. But as he does it he says, "I hope it won't be taken as a sign of being Tony Blair if I take my jacket off."

1920One person unimpressed with the Conservatives' National Insurance policy is former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell. On his website he writes: "The whole fandango reminds me a little bit of a similar Tory campaign back in the 1997 campaign when businessmen were wheeled out to support the claim made by John Major et al that a minimum wage would cost a million jobs. It didn't. Now of course they say they support a minimum wage. They don't."

1917David Cameron is asked by one member of the audience: "What can we do as small businesses to help you when you're prime minister?" Mr Cameron laughs and says, "Well, I've got to get elected first - you can probably help me a bit with that."

1910David Cameron is in Cardiff now, giving a speech - he's certainly clocking up the miles. The Tory leader is talking again about why Labour's planned National Insurance rise would be a bad idea - in fact "just about the craziest thing you could do". He's kept his jacket and tie on for this event, unlike last night's speech.

1859There's a bit of cynicism among some on Twitter at the size of the audience that tuned into Gordon Brown's People's PMQs podcast earlier. Simon Jeffrey, of the Guardian, thinks it struggled to reach 300, while Henry Macrory, head of press for the Tories, thinks it was only 120. But Peter Bale, executive producer of MSN, which hosted the event, told the BBC's James Cook he thought it was terrific. "There was a good buzz in the room," he said. "I thought that despite it being a Labour organised event there was a really broad range of questions."

1855What was it Gordon Brown said about the economy being like Wayne Rooney's foot and needing time to recover? Well, it turns out Rooney is to start for Manchester United against Bayern Munich tonight - several weeks before he was expected to return to full fitness. An omen perhaps?

1847The BBC's James Cook says Gordon Brown's heckler earlier - a little intervention from the outside world - showed that no matter how carefully choreographed the election campaign, events can always take you by surprise.

1820National Insurance, and whether it should rise or be cut, has dominated the agenda on day two of the election campaign. Our business editor Robert Peston has been assessing the parties' claims as part of our Reality Check feature.
Robert Peston

1803Gordon Brown has been asked why he didn't answer a question from a voter who confronted him earlier today - complaining that he couldn't get his child into his preferred school. Mr Brown explained his refusal to engage with the man by saying that he was "happy to answer questions at public meetings" but was actually on his way from one meeting to another at the time, reports the BBC's James Cook.

1752The parliamentary "wash-up" continues. The Commons has now backed a ban on the so-called "legal high" mephedrone, which dominated the headlines a couple of weeks ago, and has been linked to a number of deaths in the UK.

1747The BBC has spoken to the man who heckled Gordon Brown this afternoon. Ben Butterworth from south London was complaining that he couldn't get his son into a school of his choice. Mr Butterworth tells the BBC Labour had spent "13 years of promising choice for parents in education".

1737Prime Minister Gordon Brown has confirmed Labour's manifesto will contain a pledge to maintain the 20p tax rate. Speaking to Channel Four News he said: "The income tax rate has come down from 23p to 20p and we've kept it at 20p and that is what we will pledge to do in our manifesto."

1734More on the man who berated Gordon Brown as the prime minister left a campaign event in Central London. The man, who followed Mr Brown to his car, is caught on camera saying: "Can you tell us why my children can't get into the state schools of their choice in our area? Gordon! Can you tell me why my children can't get into the state schools of their choice in our area. Gordon I thought you wanted to talk to the public. You're not talking to us Gordon. Can you tell me why my children can't get into the state schools of their choice Gordon? Hello!"

1725Gordon Brown has conceded that it is "up to the people" to decide whether he would share power with another party in the future. In an interview with the BBC this afternoon, I asked Mr Brown whether he would, if necessary, work with other parties to keep the Conservatives out. Mr Brown said "it's a matter for the people; now the people will make their decision in this election." Pressed again about whether he would not rule out working with another party the prime minister said "I'm fighting for a victory". The prime minister's comments reveal that he is having to think about how he would behave in the event of an uncertain election result on the day he has proposed constitutional reforms that he says would appeal to Liberal Democrats - voting reform and fixed term parliaments - BBC political editor Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson graphic

1714Gordon Brown speaks of the importance of the internet. His first question, about how to meet the world development goals, comes from a Twitter user. Mr Brown replies that the UK has doubled its overseas aid, and he is encouraging other countries - even in a recession - to do the same.

1710Labour leader Gordon Brown is now at Microsoft's central London offices - where he will face questions put by users of various social networking sites and MSN. The event is chaired by former MP Oona King.

1704Meanwhile @williamjhague has acquired more than 2,400 followers in less than 24 hours, tweets the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones Read Rory Cellan-Jones's tweets
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1700Gordon Brown has just denied his speech highlighting his middle class background was any kind of a dig at Tory leader David Cameron. Mr Brown says it was purely a statement of where he has come from and what are his values. Ultimately, he says, it's what people stand for that is important.
Gordon Brown

1653I have just had a sneak preview of some of the online questions the prime minister is going to be asked at an event called the Peoples' PMQs. So long as his memory is tip-top, he shouldn't find them too challenging. They include "will you reduce the voting age to 16" and "how will you reform the House of Lords" - two policies he announced earlier this afternoon in a major speech. Surely mere coincidence! BBC political correspondent Iain Watson
Iain Watson

1641News coming in to us that as he was leaving his campaign event at Centrepoint in London's West End, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was heckled by a member of the public, who was complaining he could not get his son into the school of his choice.

1638Let us not forget that Parliament is still sitting - and that the legislative "wash-up" is continuing. I read that a law to stop politicians in Northern Ireland "double-jobbing" has cleared the Commons, meaning MPs who sit in both Westminster and Stormont cannot claim salaries from both. While they will still be able to sit in both places, they will only be able to draw their Westminster pay cheque.

1634One of the few times I nearly lost my temper with a work colleague was with a fellow journalist who told me that he always spoilt his ballot paper in elections. Not voting I can understand, and I have never supported compulsory voting, which seems illiberal, although I do not agree with it. But to go to the polling station simply to rage at the machine: that is trying too hard to be annoying.
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1632Tory strategists are using every possible means to woo voters. The smell of freshly-baked bread wafted around David Cameron as he spoke to staff at Warburtons bakery in Bolton, reports the BBC's Carole Walker.
Carole Walker

1630A quick check on the blogosphere shows that the New Statesman's James Macintyre has undertaken a review of how the parties' websites are looking - in what he terms "the calm before the storm". While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats focus on their leaders, Labour's is an "altogether more mixed affair" he writes, with "more words than pictures".
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1623Returning to the Penny Lane Trust in Liverpool, the BBC hears from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. While he doesn't want to see any taxes going up, can we afford not to see National Insurance go up, he asks. But he attacks the Conservatives for "conning" people. Only the Lib Dems are offering a tax break, he argues, with their pledge that the first £10,000 of earnings will be tax free.
Nick Clegg

1619Back in London, and Gordon Brown's campaign session on constitutional reform. BBC political correspondent Iain Watson says the PM took an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to some aspects of political reform, including lowering the voting age.
Iain Watson

1615People at Nick Clegg's campaign event in Liverpool Wavertree have been putting their questions to the Lib Dem leader. He was chiefly quizzed over the party's tax policies, says the BBC's Fiona Trott.

1608On a more serious note, we are reminded, courtesy of the BBC's Ben Brown, that the boss of Warburtons was one of those captains of industry to sign a letter in support of the Tories' stance over the planned rise in National Insurance.

1604And the backdrop to David Cameron's event in Bolton? An array of sliced bread. Either it's the baker taking advantage of some free advertising, or is it a subliminal message about the speaker?

1600Labour have launched a site with a Twitter feed from Sarah Brown. Is she ever more central to the Labour campaign, tweets the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones Read Rory Cellan-Jones's tweets
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1557Back at the bakers, the audience at Warburtons hears David Cameron make an admission: he recently bought a breadmaker. But he says his efforts resulted in a mush, so he's back to buying his loaves.
David Cameron

1552As the Lib Dem leader arrived at a community centre in Penny Lane, one onlooker said disappointingly, "I thought the VIP was going to be Paul McCartney", reports the BBC's Fiona Trott in Liverpool.

1550Will bread and butter issues come to the fore as Tory leader David Cameron arrives for a campaign event at Warburton's bakery in Bolton? The well-known baker employs 1,300 people in the UK, says the BBC's Ben Brown.
David Cameron

1548Get your ear muffs ready. This is going to be a loud, angry election. In my seat in the Commons press gallery just above David Cameron today, I actually had to put my hands to the sides of my head and still, by the end of PMQs, I had gnawing ear ache.
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1544Liverpool Wavertree is the first post-PMQs stop for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. He's set to face questions from the public at the Penny Lane Trust.
Nick Clegg

1539Just got a sneak peek at this week's Spectator magazine and it seems the Gene Hunt comparison was too much to resist. The front page shows the Tory leader sitting on the infamous Audi Quattro, alongside the headline, "Give Cameron the keys". The Spectator is Tory through and through so it was always going to support him, but it says it is listing positive reasons to vote Cameron not negative ones to ditch Labour.

1534I asked Nick Clegg on the plane whether he was relieved to get the final prime minister's questions done. "Kind of," he replied. "In a funny sort of way it would be fun to carry on during the campaign," the BBC's Mike Sergeant says.
Mike Sergeant

1523News has reached us of a stunt by campaign group The Taxpayers' Alliance. It plans to travel 1,300 miles around Britain with a giant "debt clock", which will tick over as the government borrows more money. The message, the group says is, "Wake up to the national debt!"

1518SNP accuses PM of being a hypocrite - backing referendum on Lords and changing voting system but not a referendum on independence, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweets. Read Laura Kuenssberg's tweets
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1515Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve tells the BBC he wants to know more detail on Gordon Brown's plan to outlaw lobbying by MPs. He says paid lobbying is already in breach of Commons' rules, so what is new? He also says MPs can currently work, without pay, as consultants and this can be very productive for the relationship between business and politics.

1509Gordon Brown's speech on political reform was an attempt to redirect the focus of today's campaigning away from the National Insurance row. He did have a surprise up his sleeve too, with the announcement that Labour would put an end to MPs working for lobbying companies, the BBC's chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg says.
Laura Kuenssberg

1500Martin Bell has thrown his weight behind independent candidates at the election. The former war correspondent, elected to Parliament as an independent in 1997, says they have an "unprecedented opportunity" this time around to "challenge the politics of the status quo".

1454Simon Hughes says the Lib Dems have the "best chance" at the election at any point in his lifetime. He says his party would support the National Insurance increase but its focus is on reducing tax for the least-well off. He also attacks the Conservatives' promises of political reform, saying their record on the issue has been "hopeless".

1440David Cameron has told us momentum is building against what he calls "Gordon Brown's jobs tax". He was speaking on a flight to north west England where he'll talk to businessmen and workers about Conservative plans to scrap Labour's proposed rise in National Insurance contributions, the BBC's Carole Walker says.

1433Some of what Gordon Brown said in his speech was substantial and new. It's the first time, for example, that we've heard how the process for reforming the House of Lords would work. Mr Brown also said he would remove the power of the prime minister to call elections when he chooses - a right he has made use of himself - the BBC's Iain Watson says.
Iain Watson

1424Gordon Brown also says Labour would introduce fixed term parliaments - similar to those in the United Sates - if re-elected.

1421There would be a fully elected House of Lords and a free vote for MPs on lowering the voting age if Labour won the election, Gordon Brown says. He also says he would give the public a referendum on an alternative voting system - he says he wants to see a situation where no MP is elected without the majority support of his or her constituents.

1416Gordon Brown says he would take "no joy" in an election victory if it did not come with a mandate to overhaul the political system. He says new rules cannot be a replacement for "good character" among politicians, but changes are long overdue. On Mr Brown's list of changes is the idea - pushed by the Conservatives today as their key plan - to allow voters to deselect MPs found guilty of financial wrongdoing.

1414Gordon Brown is taking to the podium for his speech on constitutional reform - a view of the towers of the City of London behind him. The location for the event - Centrepoint tower - is the home of the CBI. The influential business organisation has given its backing to Conservative plans to cancel Labour's planned National Insurance rise.

1358Just a snippet on Gordon Brown's imminent speech. The BBC's Matthew Sydney says: "A Labour Party press officer tells me the audience for Mr Brown's speech on the constitution is made up of party members and yes, they are all quite young. Watching them arrive reminds me of my days covering student union politics, 15 years ago."

1355There's concern in some quarters about David Cameron's apparent lack of commitment to cycling safety. Several newspapers, including Scotland's Daily Record, report that the Tory leader rode to the House of Commons this morning without a helmet. He's been told off before for riding lid-less and safety charities have expressed their concern.

1346Leader of the UK Independence Party Lord Pearson says he welcomes moves towards a voting system based on proportional representation, but it would really just be "rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" because so many of our laws are now made in Brussels. What the UK really needs is a full referendum on membership of the EU, he adds.

1338Wednesday's London Evening Standard - as you'd expect - thinks "London is the battleground no party dares lose". Political editor Joe Murphy thinks the capital is "swinging against Labour more markedly than other regions" and he picks out one seat as a key barometer. "If affable Stephen Pound loses Ealing North, which would require a massive swing of 10%, Labour would be in chaos nationally and Mr Cameron assured of a landslide," Mr Murphy says.

1326More on political reform on BBC Radio 4's World at One. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says everyone standing at this election must understand the sheer "disdain and cynicism" people feel because of the "poisonous activities" of a few politicians. His opposite number William Hague says there's a desire from the public to see standards rise and costs fall in the system. He also says there could be "common political cause" between the Tories and the Lib Dems on this matter. For the Lib Dems, Vince Cable says the government has been "unwilling" to accept a cap on political donations because of Labour's links with the unions.

1319Thomas Atcheson from Leeds says on Twitter: Does shouting over questions and laughing at in jokes help the general public 'connect' with politics? I think not, well done MPs! Read Thomas Atcheson's tweets
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1306Today's prime minister's questions will be the last until at least 19 May, as the new Parliament will not start until Tuesday 18 May. Now, Tiewatch: The BBC's Claire Williams says Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's red number, covered in what looked like small yellow spots, was an "interesting" choice. "It combined Labour's colour with a bit of Lib Dem yellow and, overall, had a rather conservative pattern," she adds. "Could it be a hung Parliament tie?" On Mr Cameron's light-blue offering, Ms Williams says: "It was understated. Conservative with a small 'c'. I can find no more words to add on the subject and nor shall I endeavour to do so."

1254Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is getting ready to fly to north-west England, the BBC's Mike Sergeant says. There is a sense of eagerness to get away from Westminster as quickly as possible, our correspondent adds.
Mike Sergeant

1250BBC political correspondent Colette McBeth says: It was no love-in, but then we didn't expect that. David Cameron used the last prime minister's questions to talk about deception. Gordon Brown's that is. He said the PM was a master of it, had hoodwinked the public on helicopter numbers and robbing pension funds. And of course there was the matter of so many business leaders supporting Conservative National Insurance plans. Had they been deceived? Mr Cameron focused on what he sees as the issues that play well for his party. He was essentially asking if Mr Brown is a man to be trusted. For his part Mr Brown trotted out his favourite lines: Labour had taken the right decisions on economy and the Conservatives had opposed them; Mr Cameron's policies would threaten our public services; and the Tories' figures didn't add up. Nick Clegg was at his most animated, talking about how both parties had colluded and blocked political reform. He told both Brown and Cameron they'd failed and it was time to go. And go they will - on the campaign trail.

1242Former Home Secretary David Blunkett says prime minister's questions brought more "heat than light". Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox says many voters will feel it a "mercy" when the election campaign is over, with some already suffering "fatigue". And former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy argues the "real debate" between the party leaders will be when they come face-to-face on TV over the next few weeks.

1238Some economic news. The OECD international think-tank predicts that the UK is set for sustained growth during the first half of this year. This will be at a higher rate than the average for G7 leading world economies, it adds. But the OECD warns that the recovery is fragile.

1234The final prime minister's session of the Parliament is over. It was a lively one, but with few surprises regarding subject matter. The economy, Afghanistan and political reform were the dominant themes.

1231Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green says the number of UK-born private sector workers has fallen since 1997. Mr Brown says net migration is falling and the Conservatives' "quota" plans would be damaging.

1229Tory Michael Fabricant asks about the business leaders backing the Tory plan to overturn a National Insurance increase. Mr Brown reiterates his point that public services have to be paid for.

1226Labour's Denis MacShane says a Tory election win would leave UK business isolated in Europe. Mr Brown says the Conservatives are going into alliance with "extreme" groups in the European Parliament.

1224Conservative Bernard Jenkin says the PM has cut helicopter numbers for troops and will continue to do so. Mr Brown says the government has ordered more helicopters for the future.

1223Tory Stephen Hammond says the prime minister is avoiding meeting members of the public during the election campaign, preferring to go before Labour supporters. Mr Brown says the people he has met so far became Labour supporters after talking to him.

1218Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg pays tribute to soldiers killed in Afghanistan and the firefighters who died in Southampton. He says Labour and the Tories are "trying to fool people that they are serious about political reform". The prime minister blames Tory donor Lord Ashcroft for the breakdown of cross-party talks on the subject. Mr Clegg brands this answer "ridiculous", saying the two main parties have "colluded". But the prime minister says Labour and the Lib Dems agreed on reforms and the Tories prevented progress.
Nick Clegg

1216There is laughter in the Commons as Mr Cameron claims one of the business leaders backing his party's National Insurance plans is "not a Tory" but one of Mr Brown's advisers. Labour would wreck the recovery if kept in power, he adds. Speaker John Bercow has to silence MPs again. Mr Brown uses a line Mr Cameron once said about Tony Blair, joking about the Tory leader: "To think he was the future once."

1213Moving on to National Insurance, Mr Cameron says the prime minister was wrong to say business leaders were "deceived" into supporting Conservative plans to overturn an increase. Mr Brown says the Tories would put public services at risk. Mr Cameron presses the point again. The prime minister says the government cannot "cut our way" to improving the economy.

1210Mr Cameron says the prime minister, when chancellor, "robbed" the UK's pension funds. Mr Brown replies that the government has brought in the pensioners' winter allowance and given them "dignity" with other measures. To Tory cheers, Mr Cameron says this is "deception".

1208Mr Cameron says leading figures have complained that troops were not given enough helicopters. The prime minister says the military has been given the equipment it needs. As the atmosphere becomes livelier in the Commons, Speaker John Bercow tells MPs to quieten down.

1206Conservative leader David Cameron also pays tribute to soldiers killed during this Parliament and the two firefighters killed in Southampton. He urges the PM to say that British forces going into Helmand in Afghanistan were not properly equipped. Mr Brown says the government has done its best to equip troops and will continue to do so.
David Cameron

1204Mr Brown also pays tribute to the two firefighters who died in Southampton on Tuesday night. Labour's Sandra Osborne asks the PM to guarantee he will not take £6bn out of the economy if elected. He says Tory plans for cuts will put the UK in danger of "double-dip recession".

1201Gordon Brown is on his feet for prime minister's questions. He pays tribute to soldiers killed in Afghanistan this week.
Gordon Brown

1159BBC political editor Nick Robinson tells Daily Politics the Tories will be delighted that more business leaders have backed the party's campaign against a rise in National Insurance. David Cameron's party has had a "tricky" year and will use this latest development as ammunition against Gordon Brown at prime minister's questions, he adds.
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1155Many of the political big guns - including Home Secretary Alan Johnson and shadow foreign secretary William Hague - are in the Commons, ahead of prime minister's questions. The atmosphere is boisterous.

1149Ben Johnson from Letchworth writes: Fairly standard campaign so far, everyone promising change. Have to wonder though why both Brown and Cameron aren't taking the Lib Dems seriously. They could need Clegg come 6 May, and might regret some comments.
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1145Thirty more business leaders have added their names to the list of signatories backing the Conservatives' plans to scrap the planned increase in National Insurance, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says. That takes the total to 68. The new names include the bosses of Fujitsu Communications, Travelodge, and Premier Oil.
Laura Kuenssberg

1144BBC political correspondent Colette McBeth says: Change is the buzz word in politics at the moment. David Cameron says the Conservatives are change. Nick Clegg says only he can offer real change. And Gordon Brown says Labour can deliver change without a change of personnel. So expect it to hear this C-word mentioned a few times. Mr Cameron says he'll use this final prime minister's questions of this Parliament to put points across on behalf of the country - could National Insurance be one of them? Gordon Brown will be sure to insist that the Conservatives would put the economy at risk. And Mr Clegg has been talking about corrupt politics this morning - he may want to press a few points on that theme. One last word, we are now in campaign mode, it could be more vicious than usual.

1140For the Conservatives, shadow Treasury minister Philip Hammond says his party's plans do not include any increase in VAT. This is likely to be a theme of prime minister's questions today. Talking of which, Gordon Brown's motorcade has just made its way from Downing Street to the House of Commons.

1123David Cameron comes under attack from safety campaigners after he was pictured cycling without wearing a helmet. Headway, the brain injury association, says it is "deeply disappointed" to learn of photographs taken of the Conservative leader leaving his home and arriving at the House of Commons with his headgear dangling from his handlebars.
David Cameron

1118In an unfilmed question and answer session after his speech, Lord Mandelson attacked the Conservatives for sitting with "homophobes" in the European Parliament, the BBC's Iain Watson says. The business secretary also accused the Tories of bribing the electorate, our correspondent adds.
Iain Watson

1107David Cameron's team is doing its best to keep the media accompanying him happy and aware of the Conservatives' campaign themes, the BBC's Carole Walker says. This morning we have all received goody bags containing Berocca vitamins, Kalms anti-stress herbal tablets, emergency chocolate for those moments of fatigue, make-your-own Gordon Brown speech fridge magnets and a mug with David Cameron as Gene Hunt urging us to "Fire up the Quattro, it's time for change", our correspondent adds. They're all in an environmentally friendly jute bag bearing the message "Brown ain't my bag".
Carole Walker

1103There's just under an hour to go until the last prime minister's questions session of this Parliament. However, it is unlikely to be the last time Gordon Brown and David Cameron face each other over the despatch box, whatever the election result. Even if one of them is beaten at the polls and announces he will resign, he is likely to continue doing PMQs until replaced. This happened in 1979, 1992, 2001 and 2005.

1055Andre Camilleri from Mansfield writes: There are many millions of people out there who are unbelievably fed up with our present sad batch of politicians. Perhaps if people were given a real chance to listen to independent candidates the outcome of this election would be truly historical and not sadly predictable.
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1053BBC News Channel presenter Jane Hill says: Lord Mandelson was charm personified as he left the Commonwealth Club, in central London, following his speech - unlike when he went in. He was keen to talk at some length about both main opposition parties. He echoed his very strong criticism about the Tories "just not getting it". When I tried to ask one last question about National Insurance, his spokesman pushed me aside and said: "You've had a good clip."

1045Four business leaders have reacted angrily to Gordon Brown repeating accusation this morning that they have been "deceived' by Conservatives over National Insurance. Read Laura Kuenssberg's tweets
Laura Kuenssberg

1037Lord Mandelson tells the BBC that Labour has plans to overcome the "rupture" between politicians and the public. The Lib Dems can "speak" but not "act", as they will not form a government, the business secretary adds. Turning his criticism towards the Conservatives, he says they "just don't get it" when it comes to political reform.

1028Gordon Brown will face questions from Labour's Sandra Osborne and Linda Gilroy among others in the House of Commons from 1200 BST. There are several Tories on the list of questioners too, including Stephen Hammond, Greg Hands, Michael Fabricant and Damian Green.

1022For all of the election talk on the social networks, another political topic got far more attention yesterday. The Commons debate on the Digital Economy Bill was sparsely attended but featured some passionate speeches which were heard by what may well have been a record online audience - at least to judge by the torrent of tweets about the proceedings. Rory Cellan-Jones's blog
Rory Cellan-Jones

1016Mr Clegg says keeping the Trident nuclear deterrent system would be "living in the past", arguing that it is no longer needed for the UK's defence. His speech and press conference is over. The Lib Dem leader will now head off to prepare for the final prime minister's questions session of this Parliament, at 1200 BST. It is the last time the 150 or so MPs who are standing down at the election will attend. Some misty eyes can be expected among the likes of Michael Howard, Ruth Kelly, Ann Widdecombe, Sir Patrick Cormack, Ian Paisley, James Purnell, to name but a few. Will the tone be a little nostalgic or, as usual, just mutually antagonistic?

1008The Lib Dems are not "blemish free", but none of the party's MPs abused parliamentary second homes expenses on an "industrial scale", Nick Clegg says.

1005Nick Clegg says there should be "very strict rules" on maximum donations to political parties, setting the figure at £10,000.

0959Lib Dem Treasury spokesman and deputy leader Vince Cable will not be campaigning alongside Nick Clegg this week, the BBC's Mike Sergeant says. He will be doing his own tour. Is this chance for the leader to build his profile away from the shadow of his deputy, our correspondent asks.
Mike Sergeant

0954The Lib Dem leader says Labour and the Conservatives have consistently tried to block reform at Westminster. "They are treating people like fools. You can't trust a word they say," Nick Clegg adds. His party will make sure people look at politics with "pride".

0949Nick Clegg says the past year at Westminster has been one of "scandal and sleaze". Voters will say "never again", he adds. But Tory and Labour promises of political reform are a "smokescreen of words" for the "two-party stitch-up of Westminster", the Lib Dem leader adds.
Nick Clegg

0947Lord Mandelson says David Cameron has "warm words" and "bonhomie" and little else. The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says Lib Dem leader is going to make a similar point later about the Conservatives and Labour, saying the two biggest parties don't offer radical reform.
Laura Kuenssberg

0940Lord Mandelson continues his attack on the Conservatives, saying Tory measures to deal with the economic downturn would have "cost this country very, very dearly". But Gordon Brown had the "boldness and imagination to act, and still does". The business secretary adds that people don't think Britain is "broken".

0936Lord Mandelson attacks Tory leader David Cameron, saying he has not transformed his party into anything "resembling a progressive force". Labour will fight the election on ideas, he tells an audience in central London. There is a "new consensus" that markets and governments can work together, he says. Tiewatch: the BBC's Claire Williams likes the peer's greyish/brownish neckpiece. She says: "That graphic print look is very in this season. It's a minimalist, modern style."

0928Business Secretary Lord Mandelson says Labour will not put the "fragile recovery at risk". The moment needs a government which understands the complexity of globalisation, he adds.

0926David Miliband says Labour have less than half the money the Tories have to spend on their campaign. He tells the BBC's Gary O'Donoghue his party won't be running a "flash Harry" campaign, given its straitened circumstances.
Gary O'Donoghue

0920Professor Steven Fielding, of the Centre for British Politics, says "Lambrini Lady" - shorthand for millions of disengaged female voters - could be key to the election... Meanwhile, a near-miss, of sorts, involving the foreign secretary and a Westminster Marlboro Man. A radio journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, sneaked out for a crafty cigarette earlier this morning. As he tossed his used snout on to the floor, he was aghast to find it had almost landed on the smartly polished shoe of David Miliband. The minister did a nifty side-step and smiled bemusedly as he passed in to the Millbank studios to do an interview with Sky News.

0908Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is out and about today. He will be in Carlisle. Meanwhile, TIEWATCH: Gordon Brown continues to wear purple. The BBC's Claire Williams says this colour suggests wealth, royalty, strength, the power of a Roman emperor. "Is this intentional?" she muses. More on the other leaders' sartorial choices later.

0843There is a real patchwork of marginal seats, making strategy planning more difficult for all the parties, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says. And what about the travel? How the leaders must detest planes, trains and battlebuses by the end of the campaign...
Laura Kuenssberg

0830Nick Clegg says that, if there is a "balanced" Parliament after the election, the party with the "moral mandate" to govern will be that chosen by most voters. If the Lib Dems have any role in government, they will focus on tax reforms, cleaning up politics, education and health, Mr Clegg adds. Any offer of electoral reform from the likes of Lord Mandelson is like being offered a deal by Del Boy, the star of the BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, he says. With that, the Lib Dem leader departs the studio - avoiding peers in rickety three-wheel vans, one supposes.

0821Splitting investment banks and High Street banks is necessary to avoid "history repeating itself" with another financial crisis, Mr Clegg says.

0817Mr Clegg says treating people like "idiots" over government spending will not work. The Lib Dems' will make an extra £15bn in cuts, compared with Labour, he tells Today.

0815Lib Dem cuts will put the country "within shouting distance" of halving the government's structural deficit within four years, leader Nick Clegg says. Increasing VAT would be a "cop out", he adds.

Nick Clegg
0813Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg says the election is an "opportunity not to repeat the same old patterns as the past". Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he says Labour and the Tories aren't radical enough.

0758Lib Dem housing spokesman Sarah Teather says her party is the only one which can be trusted to reform the UK's voting system. The comment comes on a day when the Conservatives are to spell out plans to make MPs more accountable to voters and Labour will promise referendums on reforms to elections and to the House of Lords.

0754Mr Brown says he is not receiving any extra coaching for the three televised debates with Tory leader David Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. He also tells GMTV he is a "bit worried about the children", as he will not be seeing much of them as he travels around the country during campaigning.

0748The prime minister tells GMTV that business leaders who signed two letters last week complaining about Labour's proposed National Insurance rise were "deceived" by the Conservatives. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson was heavily criticised last Thursday for saying the same thing. This could well come up at prime minister's questions later today.

0727 Gordon Brown tells GMTV that Labour have no plans to raise VAT - he says they considered it in the past but had decided to increase National Insurance instead because they thought it fairer to make people pay according to the amount they earn.
Gordon Brown

0640 BBC political correspondent Norman Smith says Labour will unveil later plans for two referendums - one on reforming the House of Lords and one on changing the voting system - this could be an attempt to reach out to the Lib Dems, whose support Labour may need in the event of a hung parliament. Lord Mandelson is also due to make a speech in which he will urge Lib Dem voters in seats where the main battle is likely to be between Labour and the Tories, to back Labour. The Tories have also attempted to "love bomb" Lib Dem voters.

0628 Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be on the Today programme for the main 8.10am slot. Before that impressionist Rory Bremner will be on the programme talking about his own "battlebus" tour of the country for the election campaign. Last time round he had Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy to take off - what does he make of the class of 2010's party leaders? Meanwhile our day at-a-glance will keep track of some of the day's memorable moments.

0605 So what's coming up later? We'll have the final prime minister's questions before the election. It's the last chance for the House of Commons as a whole to grill Gordon Brown so expect some election themes to come up - the economy would seem like a sure bet. Out on the election trail, Labour will be setting out plans for a referendum on the House of Lords, the Conservatives will be outlining how they would make MPs more accountable while the Liberal Democrats will argue only they can remodel the political system.

0603 Good morning and welcome back to our live text coverage. Wednesday's papers, not surprisingly, all lead on the election and have varying takes on the way the battle lines were drawn on day one. All seem to agree on at least one thing though - that it will be a battle - you'll find no talk of foregone conclusions on the front pages.



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