Friday's newspapers are dominated by coverage of the prime ministerial debate with most focusing on Nick Clegg's performance but
The Daily Mirror
praises Gordon Brown, with the headline "It's a man versus boys".
meanwhile, says Nick Clegg benefited from the debate, running this message across its front page: "Enter the outsider."
Friday's newspaper front pages are starting to come in. The
Daily Telegraph headlines its story
"Clegg's star rises in great TV showdown". The paper says he exploited his equal billing with the two main party leaders to score points against them.
No one knows what to do at the end. Gordon goes to chat to the audience while Cameron stays put and appears to yank Clegg back by the elbow!
Simon Ward in London tweets: Every party is claiming victory like mothers on their kid's sports day
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Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, says all politicians claim to believe in people power, but "the devil is in the detail".
Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt says the debate was not a "game-changer" for the election.
Mark writes: Nick Clegg has clearly raised his low profile, and showed he is a polished performer and a match for the other two.
A ComRes poll for ITV News suggests Nick Clegg did best among the audience. Of 4,032 viewers polled, 43% expressed this opinion, compared with 26% who opted for David Cameron and 20% for Gordon Brown.
Nigel Farage, former UK Independence Party leader, says none of the leaders did particularly well or badly. Because of a lack of substance or memorable comment, no-one will remember much of it, he tells the Question Time audience.
Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove says David Cameron came across well as a future prime minister.
A special edition of BBC One's Question Time debates who won won the, er, debate. Former BBC political journalist John Sergeant says Nick Clegg won on performance and Gordon Brown on substance, but is less full of praise for David Cameron.
nicksnell tweets from Wokingham: Well at least everyone is talking about politics, might be nice if people actually voted this time.
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There has been some very early polling on the leaders' debate, with YouGov publishing the results of a survey carried out immediately afterwards on behalf of The Sun. Of a nationally representative sample of 1,091 TV viewers, 51% said Nick Clegg had performed best, followed by David Cameron on 29% and Gordon Brown on 19%. Some 2% were undecided. Expect plenty more statistics on audience reaction over the next few hours.
Altechy tweets: To sum up - They all said what they would do - only Gordon has already had 13 years to do it.
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The televised debates between the leaders look like they are here to stay, and the election well and truly came alive tonight, BBC political editor Nick Robinson says.
Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond says: "All the debate confirmed was that the London parties plan deep cuts to Scotland's budget and public services." He adds: "Over half the debate should have been captioned 'except for viewers in Scotland'. It was billed as a historic event but we got was three Westminster politicians looking the same, sounding the same and saying nothing of relevance to Scotland."
Tony Blair's former spokesman Alastair Campbell tells Sky News the prime minister came across as a substantial figure.
Lord Hurd, a former Tory foreign secretary, says Gordon Brown appeared less natural than his rivals, having been a politician for many years.
Former Labour minister Tony Benn predicts the election could be surprising, adding that Gordon Brown's warning about a double-dip recession was "sensible".
Former Liberal leader Lord Steel tells CNN he hopes the debate will help to lift voter turnout at the election.
In the media room in Manchester, Labour's Alastair Campbell, Lord Mandelson and Douglas Alexander are promoting Gordon Brown's performance to press and broadcasters.
The biggest impact of the debate will be the insertion of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems into the nation's consciousness, BBC political editor Nick Robinson says. But nothing that the other leaders did or said fundamentally altered the debate. The next week might be dominated by the other two big parties saying they agree with Mr Clegg.
Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones says: "In what was a very sterile debate, not once did we hear the word Wales mentioned by any of the leaders. Indeed much of what they said was irrelevant to our communities." He adds: "The people of Wales and Scotland were ignored tonight - but let me assure you that they won't be ignored by Plaid Cymru."
Now the initial political reaction. Lib Dem deputy leader Vince Cable says Nick Clegg came out ahead. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague says his leader David Cameron showed he was the change the country needs. And Home Secretary Alan Johnson says Gordon Brown won on substance, Mr Clegg on style and that Mr Cameron lost on both.
No-one made a huge mistake or had a devastating one-liner, while Gordon Brown was on the attack on David Cameron, BBC, political editor Nick Robinson says. Mr Cameron restricted his attacks on the PM. The words "we agree with Nick" [Clegg] are ringing in people's ears.
Host Alastair Stewart says good night. The candidates shake hands. The audience applauds and Gordon Brown shakes hands with the audience. His rivals join in. And, after 90 minutes, that is that.
Mr Cameron says his rivals have tried to frighten viewers about a Conservative government, urging them to choose "hope over fear". Values are as important as policy, he adds. The UK is "amazing" but it needs a government with good values and a coming together of people, Mr Cameron says. The UK's first televised debate of the main party leaders is over.
Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome.com tweets: Verdict: Clegg will be pleased with his time in the sun. Brown survived. Cameron best on immigration, cancer but wasn't hard enough v Brown
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Mr Brown says politicians must make a decision now on securing the economic recovery. As the deficit is cut, there must be fairness for schools, police and the NHS, he adds. He says Mr Cameron could not give guarantees on these.
The debate ends and it's time for the closing statements. Mr Clegg says the Lib Dems can answer people's questions and rise to the challenges. The country could do "better" and voters must trust their instincts, he adds.
Mr Cameron says carers need a break, as they are "unsung heroes". Mr Clegg repeats that they should get a "breather". Mr Brown says, as well as respite, says it is vital to reach a political consensus on funding for care.
This is the final question of the debate, by the way. Mr Cameron says the country can't afford to make all elderly care free, but putting money aside will mean elderly people will not have to sell their homes to pay for care. Mr Clegg says politicians must come together to resolve the problem, and that carers must be given respite for at least a week a year. Mr Brown says a more comprehensive system must be put in place and that all parties must reach an agreement.
Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron clash on each other's tax proposals. Mr Brown says he and Mr Clegg agree that Tory inheritance tax plans are wrong. The leaders are stopped by Alastair Stewart, ready for a question on care for the elderly.
Mr Cameron says the UK's death rate from cancer is worse than Bulgaria's. Mr Brown says early detection is vital and that the Tories will not give guarantees on spending for dealing with cancer. Mr Cameron says lack of access to treatment drugs is a "scandal".
Mr Brown says he will prioritise frontline services in health and education. Mr Cameron says the number of NHS managers is going up five times as fast as the number of nurses. Mr Clegg calls the other leaders' debate "phoney" and says that the NHS should be judged not just on numbers, but the treatment people receive.
The Lib Dem leader says the government's priorities are wrong and promises more commitment to frontline services, rather than bureaucracy.
Mr Cameron says the NHS is "special" and its budget should grow in real terms under the Conservatives. There are short-term and long-term changes needed, he adds.
On to health and the cost pressures of an ageing population and expensive new treatments. Mr Brown says people need help in their homes when they grow old. He adds that guarantees of cancer diagnoses and treatments are important, as are out-of-hours GPs. The fact Labour will give guarantees is important, Mr Brown says.
The BBC's Jon Sopel tweets: This is so much more engaging than the rules seemed to suggest would be possible. Why have we waited 50 years for this?
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Mr Clegg agrees with Mr Cameron that a defence spending review is needed, saying Trident must not be replaced and that the Cold War has ended. The Tory leader says it is wrong to give up an independent nuclear deterrent, as the risks of the future are unknown. Mr Brown agrees that it is wrong to abandon nuclear weapons when countries like Iran and North Korea are developing them.
Mr Clegg says UK expertise should be used to provide life-saving equipment on the front line. Mr Brown says every request for equipment by the military has been met and that forces are in Afghanistan to reduce the terrorist threat to the UK. Mr Cameron says it is a "vital year" in the war and there must be a "fundamental" defence spending review.
Mr Clegg says troops are under-equipped and underpaid and that they should be the priority, rather than replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent. Mr Brown says the government is "doing the right thing by our troops" and is increasing spending on equipment and he would not send troops into battle unprepared. Mr Cameron says the Tories have had to fight a battle in Parliament to stop cuts to training for the Territorial Army.
Mr Cameron says viewers will find Mr Brown's points on the economy "extraordinary". Host Alastair Stewart cuts the leaders short to move on to a question on equipment levels for UK troops.
Mr Clegg invites the other leaders to "come clean" after the election on the size of the government's structural deficit. He says the tax system is unfair. Mr Brown tells Mr Cameron not to cut investment. The Tory leader argues that the PM wants to go on wasting money now and to raise taxes later.
LizMair tweets: Finally! We're talking taxes and spending!
Mr Cameron attacks public sector waste, saying cutting it would be good for the economy. Mr Clegg says this is not the biggest question, adding that "mythical savings in waste" are the "oldest trick in the book" and promising more openness. Mr Brown says support for the economy must be maintained and the Tories are a "risk to the recovery".
The BBC's Jon Sopel tweets: Content debate can be debated, but engagement with audience Clegg doing well. Remembers names, talks to each questioner. Empathymeister
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City University's Professor Steve Schifferes says: So far the debate is shedding more heat than light on the economy. Mr Brown did not wait long before accusing the Conservatives of planning to cut public spending on policing. Mr Cameron responded by blaming Mr Brown for ruining the UK economy. Interesting that the debate on immigration seemed to ignore many of the economic arguments in its favour Labour used to make.
The prime minister says his government has been right on the "big choices" over the economy and that money cannot be taken out of the economy now. He warns again of a "double-dip" recession.
Mr Clegg says the Lib Dems will find cuts and savings of £15bn, with measures including ending the Child Trust Fund and capping public sector pay.
The budget deficit now. Mr Cameron says £6bn can be saved this year to prevent the need for a rise in National Insurance. This "jobs tax" would damage the recovery, he adds.
Host Alastair Stewart is keeping his interventions to a minimum, it seems.
All three leaders are trying to insert the personal stories into their answers. "When I was talking to", "I met a young man in London" etc etc , says the BBC's Mike Sergeant. This is a trick they've all been working on - attempting to use real life specific examples to back up their policies. Mr Clegg seemed a touch awkward repeating his line about "hardened criminals of tomorrow", then repeating his "colleges of crime" description. It exposed the problem of trying to think of a good second line once you've made your initial point. Debate is coming alive now. Mr Brown is inserting his barbs (about Lord Ashcroft and airbrushed posters). Mr Cameron is trying not to take the bait. That's giving Mr Clegg some space to make his case largely unchallenged. Mr Brown trying to make common cause with Mr Clegg on political reform. Very interesting for all those obsessing about "what if" hung parliament scenarios. Mr Brown even smiled at Mr Clegg's Ashcroft reference. More common ground?
Mr Cameron attacks the number and size of quangos in education. Mr Brown says, once again, that education budgets cannot be cut and urges Mr Cameron to agree. The Tory leader says Labour plans to raise National Insurance will cost schools more, as they have to pay for teachers. The two men clash again over Conservative spending plans. Mr Cameron says Labour is inventing the figures. Mr Clegg says the more his two rivals attack each other, the more they seem the same.
The prime minister says education budgets should not be cut. The Tory leader argues that good discipline in schools must be improved, with head teachers getting more powers to exclude unruly pupils. His Lib Dem counterpart also calls for more freedom for staff, which will happen with "good, old-fashioned smaller class sizes".
On education in England, Mr Brown says it has improved over the last few years. He adds that he believes in the highest standards and will work to ensure this. Mr Cameron says he wants to open young people's minds and that the system is becoming too bureaucratic. And Mr Clegg says there is a feeling that teachers and pupils have to "jump through hoops" and that teachers must be freer to do their job.
Observer journalist Andrew Rawnsley tweets: 'Nick will agree with this,' says GB. 'As Nick says', comes in DC. A bit of love-bombing of the Lib Dems.
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Mr Cameron says the Lib Dems took £2.5m from a "criminal on the run" and asks if the party has paid the money back. Mr Clegg says neither of the other two leaders wants to clean up politics from top to bottom. The PM calls for the standard of debate to be raised.
Mr Clegg accuses the other leaders of saying much and doing little to clean up politics, calling it a "betrayal". Mr Brown says he agrees with the Lib Dem leader that reform is needed, saying the Tory idea of cutting the number of MPs will reduce representation for voters, arguing the size of the House of Lords should be reduced by half. Mr Cameron says Labour has had 13 years to sort out the House of Lords and not done it. Cutting MPs by 10% will cut costs and do a better job, he adds. He adds that Mr Clegg has a "holier than thou" attitude.
It's MPs' expenses now. Mr Clegg says no politician deserves any trust until everyone has "come clean" over what's gone wrong. The prime minister says he was shocked and sickened by the scandal, adding he wants to give constituents the right to recall MPs. petition Parliament and reform the House of Commons and House of Lords. Mr Cameron says the scandal was "horrendous" and the cost of politics must be cut.
The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweets: Labour and Conservative press teams already e-mailing and texting to claim best bits for their leader
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Mr Brown presses the Tory leader again on police funding. He says Mr Cameron can't "airbrush" his policies, unlike his posters. This draws a few quiet gasps from the audience.
Mr Clegg says there are "colleges of crime", where people on short sentences learn new "tricks" in prison and re-offend when they get out. Mr Brown says he is "grateful" that the Tories have put posters up with his face "smiling", adding that this has done him some favours. He asks if the Conservatives will continue funding the police. Mr Cameron answers that there is money that can be saved by getting police out fighting crime, rather than filling in forms.
Mr Cameron leader says government must be faster at getting drug addicts off the streets and into treatment. Mr Clegg again attacks both his rivals for using "tough talk" but not tackling problems. The PM adds that voluntary service by young people helps cut crime and that Labour has increased policing levels.
D Blinkhorn writes: Started well with all three leaders not as nervous as I thought they would be.
No surprises in the opening speeches - the three leaders setting out well rehearsed big themes in this campaign. Clegg presenting himself as the one offering real change , says the BBC's Mike Sergeant. Mr Brown immediately putting the economy at the centre of the debate. Mr Cameron repeating his "all in this together" mantra. Then straight away immigration - the issue that all the parties have been avoiding during the campaign during the campaign so far. The first answers felt very rehearsed. The joke from Mr Clegg about football clubs not being able to recruit new players if there's a cap on immigration was a good line but it fell flat. Maybe the studio audience feel they're not allowed to laugh (was that in the rules?) The three men are talking over each other, and interrupting quite a bit - the "free debate" after the main questions could be more feisty than expected. Party strategists are already spinning in the media centre.
A female audience member asks how the UK can be made safer. Mr Cameron says some sentences are far too lenient. Lib Dem Mr Clegg says more police should be on the street and the ID cards scheme should be scrapped, making more money available to ensure law and order are maintained. The PM says crime is falling but more can be done. He says police must spend more time on the beat and parents must be more responsible for children.
Mr Cameron queries how a "regional" immigration approach can work. Mr Clegg says people's freedom of movement to find work within the UK can be restricted.
Mr Cameron criticises the level of immigration under Labour. Mr Brown stresses that it is now falling. Mr Brown says he agrees with Mr Clegg that an "arbitrary" cap will not work. The leaders are all becoming more animated, cutting across each other a little.
The audience is obeying the rules by keeping silent. The prime minister says net inward migration is falling, but Mr Cameron counters that more "concrete steps" are needed to reform the system. And Mr Clegg says there is "good immigration and bad immigration", ruling out "arbitrary caps" and advocating "regional" migration, bringing in people to areas where specific skills are needed.
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones tweets: Tweetminster says over 7 tweets per second even before the leaders' debate started. Lots of activity too on slapometer & Facebook.
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The first question is on immigration. Mr Brown says Labour's points-based system is working to give the country the skills it needs. Mr Cameron argues that immigration is "simply too high", with too much pressure on services, and that it must be brought down, with limits on migrants from beyond the EU. Mr Clegg says there has been "tough talking" from Labour and the Tories, but "complete chaos". He adds that he will restore exit controls.
Tory leader David Cameron says there is a "big choice" at the election. We can build a bigger society, he adds. Mr Cameron says he would keep Labour's "good" changes but a new government is needed.
Now it's Gordon Brown. These are not "ordinary times", he argues, adding that a "strong economy" is the key to a better country. He warns of a "double-dip" recession if the wrong decisions are made.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg gives his opening statement. His party is an alternative which hopes for a "fair" country, he says.
Host Alastair Stewart says this is "history in the making". There is a round of applause for the candidates.
Here goes. The biggest political debate in UK history, in terms of viewers (as far as we are aware!), is under way. It's make or break, boom or bust for the next 90 minutes.
So after all the build up, the three men who want to be prime minister after 6 May are ready for action. The opening minutes are bound to be nervy, as Brown, Cameron and Clegg try to look confident and comfortable - not squashed and shredded by the huge weight of expectation , says the BBC Mike Sergeant. This is where the election campaign moves into completely new territory. I predict a series of cautious, polite early exchanges. None of the three will want to come out all-guns-blazing. They will use their opening statements (Clegg up first) to feel their way into the occasion. Look at the body language of the three men during the first few minutes: how much eye contact with each other? How will they balance the need to engage both the audience in the studio, and the millions watching at home?
Lord Ashdown says there is a "touch of the Obamas" about Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. I thought the parties were trying to play down expectations?
Shadow chancellor George Osborne and Tory communications director Andy Coulson have arrived, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says.
Former Lib Dem leader lord Ashdown says he would love to have taken part, but, at the moment, is thinking: "Thank God it's not me."
Lord Mandelson, talking to journalists, says Gordon Brown is "going to do fine, fine, once he gets in his stride".
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw says the contest is unpredictable, but it will be an opportunity to see the candidates "unfiltered".
Almost there. The candidates will be doing some last-minute preparations. Going through the one-liners. Meditating, maybe? Don't worry, only about 10 million potential voters watching!
The press room is getting pretty packed, with lots of senior Labour and Lib Dems milling around, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says.
Daily Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire says he has been playing "spin doctor bingo" in the media room at Granada studios. He has a "full house", he adds.
Will the masses grounded at the UK's airports by the fallout of the Iceland volcanic eruption be watching the debate? Or will the duty free shops be more tempting? What about the transit passengers stuck here?
nlakeland tweets from Maidstone, Kent: Looking forward to the first leaders' debate of the election this evening. I wonder who is going to look most plausible.
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Less than half an hour to go. It's taken the UK 50 years to catch up with the US. Will the 76 rules for candidates dampen the excitement? Let's hope not.
From Tom Quinn, radio producer in Manchester: I've just spotted a red "Vote Labour" sign in an office window here at Granada studios. Must be at least A3 size or larger. It's about five floors up. Can be seen by all media here in the car park.
Former Deputy MP John Prescott's battlebus has rolled into Southampton, where he is watching the debate in a working man's club. Could politics in the pub become as popular as football one day? OK. Er....Volleyball??
A view from the other side. Labour's election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander says he can see journalists, hundreds of them.
Former BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland says he fancies that Lord Mandelson will be able to persuade the media after the event that Gordon Brown has prevailed, whatever happens.
Gordon Brown has arrived at Granada studios ahead of the debate. The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says he looks a little tanned. Been enjoying the Manchester sunshine? All the leaders are in now.
The BBC's James Cook says: The Conservatives have paid for billboards in Manchester which feature a photograph of Gordon Brown campaigning yesterday. The picture shows two aides, Kieren Walters and Kenny Young, kneeling down to hold open a door for Mr Brown and his wife Sarah at Yeadon Health Centre near Leeds. They were walking into a room alongside Sam Prince, managing director of NHS Leeds Community Healthcare. The caption reads "Welcome to Manchester Your Highness. Show Labour the door on 6 May. Vote for change. Vote Conservative."
Gordon Brown has left his hotel.
Treasury minister Yvette Cooper says Gordon Brown wants a debate about substance. Tory Theresa May tells Sky News she doesn't understand why the PM is being billed by Labour as an underdog. It seems everyone is trying to downplay their candidate, Lib Dem Chris Huhne interjects.
The spinners are at war already. Tory press chief Henry Macrory says Labour's Alastair Campbell, who has been helping Gordon Brown, tripped over on his way to the media room.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has arrived at the Granada studios in Manchester.
In a backhanded compliment, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan, now of the Unite union, says David Cameron's PR background should make him quite an effective debater. He tells Sky News that "no amount of spinning" can change the public's mind about how the event has gone for the three leaders.
Boris Johnson is on fiery form. He says a hung Parliament would be terrible shame for the country. On the debate, Gordon Brown must avoid firing a "fusillade" of facts and figures at the audience. "Dave" would never do this, he tells Sky.
Tony Blair's former press spokesman Alastair Campbell writes in his blog: Most people tuning in to the first televised leaders' debate tonight will already feel they know GB Yet after four years as leader of the Tories, DC still cuts an unsure figure in many ways.
London Mayor Boris Johnson says David Cameron is much tougher than people give him credit for. He tells Sky News there will be a "terrible temptation" for the candidates to try to get an audience response, despite the rule against clapping. Mr Johnson says he has been suggesting witticisms for the Tory leader to use, but none seem to have made the cut.
William Hague says the benefits of having the debates outweigh the disadvantages. The arguments will be more important than comments on what ties the candidates are wearing, he adds. Let's see. One hour and 16 minutes to go.
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague says he expects the TV debate will be well conducted. The electorate is more interested in the election than it was a week ago and this event can only help that, he adds.
The audience seem "very excited and keyed up," as they wait to be ushered into the studios, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says.
LeBonners tweets from London: Trying to work out how to keep up to date on Twitter whilst watching the debate in a pub with bad phone reception.
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Sarah Brown has blogged about day nine of the election campaign, on which she and her husband visited a health centre in Leeds. Describing an encounter with a little girl called Ava who likes tap dancing, she says Mr Brown prefers other forms of dance. She writes: "In last year's Britain's Got Talent he was really impressed by Diversity (so much so they came to dance in Downing Street last year".
Read her blog here.
From Carole Walker in Manchester: David Cameron is just back from visiting the studio where tonight's debate will take place. He spent some time getting a feel for the set. The Conservative leader has had a few last minute meetings to discuss some aspects of the debate. Otherwise after a campaign visit this morning, he has been relaxing and had lunch with his wife Sam.
AndrejNkv tweets from Yorkshire: Leaders' debate drinking game: down drink every time they use the phrase "difficult decisions" (may prove deadly).
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The BBC's Phil Herd reports that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is about to leave his hotel for the debate location. He has been staying in a hotel where he can have walks in the fresh air, and in a room with no air-conditioning, to avoid the croaky-throat problem of his spring conference speech.
Charlie Whelan, of the union Unite, and a former spin doctor for Gordon Brown, predicts that Mr Brown might gang up with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in tonight's prime ministerial debate. Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie says that in this debate, being held tonight in Manchester, David Cameron is being seen as Manchester United - "people are expecting him to win."
Comedian Eddie Izzard has a few choice words for David Cameron in Labour's latest party political broadcast. Izzard, who last year completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief, says: "Last year I ran round Britain and you know what? Britain is bloody brilliant. I take great offence that the Tories are slagging off Britain saying it's broken."
Forget schools, the NHS and the economy, a traditional breakfast spread seems to be inflaming passions on the streets. The anti-Marmite "Hate Party", set up to banish the "the love it, or loathe it" product from Britain's supermarket shelves, claims 35,000 supporters on Facebook. They staged a protest outside the Marmite factory in Burton upon Trent yesterday. Organiser Emma Corfield said: "I don't want my kids living in the vile aroma of the sticky pointless tar-like substance any longer - it's the snack food of Satan."
What competition do the leaders have tonight? Well, among other things on the box there's DIY SOS and Outnumbered on BBC1, and Country House Rescue and How the Other Half Live on Channel 4. Will they steal away the viewers? We'll have to wait and see.
A little campaign news from East Anglia. Labour's Charles Clarke says he has apologised to a family in his Norwich South constituency after their telephone number mistakenly appeared on some of his campaign leaflets. The former home secretary's number is similar to the family's and the two got confused. Newspaper reports said the family received several calls from voters eager to discuss local issues. Anyway, Mr Clarke tells the BBC he regrets the mix-up and has sent the family a bunch of flowers.
The Conservatives have dismissed Lib Dem claims they were the ones mostly responsible for the strict rules governing tonight's debate as "pre-match posturing". "During the negotiation the Liberal Democrats insisted that each party leader had the right of rebuttal, which effectively limits the number of topics we discuss during the debate," a Tory spokesman said.
Labour has been
criticised by disability charity Scope
for being slow to put out their manifesto in Braille and audio formats. The Tories and Lib Dems have both beaten them to it, despite Labour launching their document first. A Labour spokesman said the other formats would be ready soon.
National Grid technicians predict that the end of the debate this evening will produce a spike in electricity usage of about 400 megawatts when millions of us put the kettle on for a cuppa. To put this in perspective, the end of EastEnders, the end of Emmerdale and lighting up time - when households lights are switched on - will have produced a spike of 1050 megawatts at 8pm.
Comedy blogger Dave Turner has come up with a drinking game for tonight's debate. Every time election catchwords "fair", "trust" and "change", or favourite phrases such as "broken Britain" are mentioned, you drink.
"On civil liberties, the Lib Dems win hands down," says Henry Porter in
"Nick Clegg's attack on Labour's authoritarian streak is especially welcome and will be significant if there is a hung Parliament on May 7," he adds.
The Conservatives have picked up on the photograph of Gordon and Sarah Brown walking through a door held open by Labour minions. A new Tory poster, going up ahead of the TV debate, says: "Welcome to Manchester your highness. Show Labour the door on May 6th."
Gordon Brown might hope to get some benefit from the volcanic ash situation, says the BBC's Carole Walker. In his first few months in office he dealt with the threat of terrorism and the chaos caused by flooding, and his handling of both appeared to go down well with the public. They seem to like how copes with a crisis.
"It's a choice between hope, prosperity and stability that would be delivered by a Labour government, for all the people of Wales - and the austerity and uncertainty of savage Tory cuts," Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones added at the launch.
Labour has been launching its manifesto in Wales today with a promise by Welsh Secretary Peter Hain that the party would "protect the public services we all cherish" and invest in new technology jobs.
There's a debate of a different kind between the leaders in Zest magazine - how best to relax. Gordon Brown says he's tried pilates, David Cameron grows his own vegetables, and Nick Clegg enjoys a cheeky cigarette. "It drives Miriam round the bend," he added.
A huge cloud of political jokes is descending on Twitter. OfficialGeek tweets: "The Tories have just announced a change to defence polices that will allow the RAF to purchase a very large Dyson vacuum cleaner." Tweet4Gary says the prime minister was misunderstood: "Gordon Brown actually sent a handwritten note to the Icelandic government: 'send cash' - oops." But Jeff_Graham worries that the "volcanic ash story is going to dominate the election debate tonight letting the leaders squirm out of the main issues".
All you election junkies are spoiled rotten tonight with coverage of the prime ministerial debate. The event itself will be on ITV1 at 8.30pm. Straight afterwards, political editor Nick Robinson will give some analysis on the BBC 10 o'clock news. After that, BBC1's Question Time will chew matters over and if all that isn't enough, stay tuned for This Week with Andrew Neil and friends.
has some slightly irreverent tips for the leaders ahead of tonight's debate. "1. The basics. Brown, don't say the word 'future'. Cambo (why hasn't that caught on?), don't say the word 'society'. Clegg, don't say the word 'Vince'." and "2. No one say the word 'progressive'."
"The quotations from JFK are a ridiculous veneer from Cameron. It's the policies of George W Bush that he's promoting." Fighting talk there from Foreign Secretary David Miliband in a video on his website. He says he wants to attack David Cameron's "big society" argument, adding: "JFK, when he said America would send a man to the moon, didn't then tell Americans to build their own rocket."
Robert Shrimsley, from the Financial Times, tweets: Always thought Zac Goldsmith an accident waiting to happen for Cameron, but I assumed he'd get elected first.
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"Millionaire environmentalist and Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith has threatened to quit and cause a by-election in Richmond Park... and he's not even been elected yet," reports the
London Evening Standard's Paul Waugh.
Mr Goldsmith told a hustings event in the constituency there would be no Heathrow expansion, no charges for parking in Richmond Park and no closure of facilities at Kingston Hospital. "If any of those promises are broken I will trigger a by-election and allow people to penalise my party," he said.
They may not be taking part in the debate, but the SNP are determined to have their TV moment tonight. The party will screen a special election broadcast - billed as "2 minutes from Alex Salmond... Which could save you 2 hours later" - on all terrestrial channels in Scotland, and UK-wide on Channel 4 and Channel Five.
The UK's air traffic control service says no flights will be allowed in or out of UK airspace until tomorrow morning. It's said to be the worst airspace restriction in living memory and means the prime ministerial debate will be taking place against the backdrop of a genuine national emergency. All the more reason for the three politicians to try to appear as statesmanlike as possible.
Johnnybgood writes: I'll probably watch tonight's debate - more out of curiosity than anything else. Will they answer questions truthfully? Probably not. Will they answer questions without going on a roundabout journey? I doubt it.
The British National Party was greeted by protesters as they presented some of their election candidates in Croydon this morning. Despite chants of "Smash the BNP", Robert Bailey, the party's London organiser, told his members their job was "to draw the public's attention and the world's attention to the immigration crisis that is facing ordinary British citizens".
"It's a democratic outrage," says the SNP's Alex Salmond. "There's actually four nations in the UK not one." He says there should have been a fourth televised debate focusing specifically on devolved issues like health so that the SNP and Plaid Cymru could take part.
Theoldgoat writes: The underlying problem with the televised debate is that only the three largest parties are getting this treatment. I'd love to hear what the Green Party, BNP, UKIP and Socialist Labour have to say on things. I might not like their opinions, but I'd rather hear them aired and countered in the mass media.
"If he had an issue about the rules being too restrictive he should have sent a different negotiating team with a different negotiating brief, because certainly from where I was sitting it didn't look like they were seeking to make these the most open debates." That's the response from Lib Dem director of communications Jonny Oates to David Cameron's concerns about the debates.
"What kind of party would go into this election promising a massive hike in spending despite the deficit?" asks Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, in
his Daily Telegraph blog.
He's talking about the Greens and says "there's idealism and there's outright battiness". But then he adds that "yet more spending
is also Labour policy too".
5ChinCrack tweets: Ooh! There's a debate on tonight where we, the people, get to see which leader has the superior media training.
Read 5ChinCrack's tweets
At last, some old-time glamour to cut through this focus group-led, sterile world of modern politics. Lord Mandelson has taken to the dancefloor at the spectacular Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. Following in the footsteps of national treasure Bruce Forsyth, the peer, a self-confessed Strictly Come Dancing fan, demonstrated some moves. Is this a metaphor for Gordon Brown's performance in the TV debate? Will the "clunking fist" down his brawling gloves and waltz around his opponents?
Labour election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander likens David Cameron to Richard Nixon, who lost the 1960 US presidential election following the first-ever televised debate. The Tory leader's invoking of the "Great Ignored" is like Nixon's claim to be defending the "Silent Majority", he adds.
There's no excuse now for missing him. The cat is out of the bag. The horse has bolted. Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps has put his campaigning schedule online for all to see. Brace yourselves for a deluge of debate-hungry humanity, O pubs and community halls of Welwyn Hatfield.
Here's where Mr Shapps will be.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson gives an insight into Gordon Brown's thinking ahead of the debate. The PM regards David Cameron as clever "but just sometimes finds him a bit trivial and a bit glib", the peer reveals. Mr Brown has to make sure he doesn't get too angry, Lord Mandelson tells journalists on Labour's battlebus.
William Hague says Conservative leader David Cameron is a "nice guy", and a "rational" one at that. Mr Hague, who led the Tories from 1997 to 2001 and is now shadow foreign secretary, reckons the TV debate will be a chance for politicians to "reconnect" with voters and that Mr Cameron should just "be himself".
Nick Clegg's team seem very chipper ahead of the TV debate, but he has to decide whether to pile in to arguments between Gordon Brown and David Cameron or whether to stand back, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says. Mr Brown has to make sure he doesn't go on too long, while Mr Cameron's camp fear they have the most to lose, although they think their man has the biggest personality of the three.
Bill Nighy, star of films like Love Actually and The Boat That Rocked, is urging politicians of all parties to support a "Robin Hood tax" on banks' financial transactions. It is "a beautiful, simple thing, easily achievable", he says. Mr Nighy wants the leaders taking part in the TV debate tonight to discuss the idea.
Watch BBC Radio 5 live's chief political correspondent John Pienaar as he delivers his latest
summing up the election campaign so far
It's smaller party Tiewatch today as Mr Brown is wearing the same offering as yesterday - obviously after Tiewatch was so complimentary about it - and Mr Cameron has thrown caution to the wind and is demonstrating how totally relaxed he is pre-debate by visiting people in Halifax sans-neckpiece. The BBC's Claire Williams says Darren Johnson showed he's a party man by modelling a striking verdant green tie at the Green Party manifesto launch in Brighton. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has been spotted in Cardiff wearing a delightfully textured plum-coloured number.
For Question Time fans, it's a bumper six-person panel tonight. Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, shadow schools secretary Michael Gove, Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws and UKIP's Nigel Farage will all be taking part. Alongside them will be Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti and broadcaster John Sargeant.
"Britain hit by giant Icelandic metaphor," writes Michael White, in
He thinks "an invisible cloud from Iceland, home of the banking black hole, seems a little ominous". He asks: "Is it a metaphor for the nation's finances?"
BBC Question Time tonight will be debating the debate - hope you're keeping up with this... The panellists and the audience will be giving their thoughts on how the leaders performed and also discussing the election in general. Tune in to BBC1 at 10.45pm.
Rockhallfame writes: I will be watching the TV debate and so should as many as are physically able. Anyone who whines and moans about politics and government but fails to engage with the most significant of their few practical democratic rights, namely voting, is not entitled to further comment. Hopefully that vote when used is an informed one, and the debates are a stunning opportunity to see a different perspective to the three party leaders.
"We believe that power has to be put in the hands of people as citizens, not consumers," Robert Wheway, Liberal party leader, has told the BBC's Daily Politics. He's not impressed with the leaders' debates and thinks the real debate should be at local level, pitting ordinary people against their local representatives, on issues that really matter.
Just seen the front cover of the latest edition of the Conservative-supporting
- and good grief, it's a bit scary. "The man who killed New Labour" is the headline - the man in question is Charlie Whelan, former Labour spin doctor and adviser to Gordon Brown.
Twitter claims another victim - this time it's Tory chairman Eric Pickles. Following on from an earlier unfortunate typo on the apparently monogrammed attire of Gordon Brown's staff, he now writes: "I claim mistweet of the day - the R is always important in Shirts."
"It's like a blind date. You don't want to tell them you're Brad Pitt if you're
" - we'll let you finish Richard Schiff's sentence. The US actor, best known for playing Toby Ziegler in political drama The West Wing, thinks playing down people's expectations is an important part of TV debate strategy.
John writes: I would rather see the leaders on my street standing on a soap box, John Major style, where I could question and heckle. That's real politics not the sterile TV studio controlled by an interviewer.
Lord Mandelson is engaged in one of the weirdest photo opportunities of the campaign so far, says the BBC's James Cook. In the centre of Manchester he is standing in front of a perspex box full of swirling £50 notes which are being blown by a fan. A message on the box reads: "Tory £200,000 giveaway to the richest 3,000 estates", referring to the Conservatives' plan to cut inheritance tax. At the end of the stunt a member of the public shouts out, "You just keep speaking your usual hot air, sir."
"I think the media is often incredibly unfair and it's not a bad idea, for once, to just let them talk," The Guardian's Polly Toynbee tells the BBC's Daily Politics show. She doesn't mind the idea of the debate being governed by rules and thinks it might actually go down better with voters because of them.
If the Greens succeed in getting their first MPs elected they would not help to prop up a minority Conservative government under any circumstances, says London assembly member and Lewisham Deptford candidate Darren Johnson. "We would not support the Conservatives in a confidence vote," he told the BBC's Brian Wheeler.
The debate won't be like a football match, nobody will win or lose. It's about voters gradually forming an impression, working out what they think about these men and what they have to say, says the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson.
Nick Clegg is visiting a school. On the wall is a poster the Lib Dems couldn't have planned better if they'd tried, says the BBC's Phil Herd. It shows Mr Happy, Mr Sad and Mr Angry - Mr Happy is yellow, Mr Sad is blue and Mr Angry is red. Draw your own conclusions as to whether this is a debate prediction!
Quick run-down for you on the format for tonight. It's a 90-minute debate - 45 minutes on domestic affairs, the rest on other topics. Each leader gets a one-minute opening statement and another 90 seconds at the end to sum up. In theory, no clapping or booing from the audience is allowed during the debate, but will the good people of Manchester be silenced? I doubt it!
"The vast majority of Welsh citizens will be better off under these proposals," Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams said as she launched her party's manifesto for Wales this morning in Cardiff. They would lift 200,000 people out of income tax altogether, she added.
The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweets: A glitzy touch - The dressing rooms for the 3 leaders in Manchester studio have silver stars with their names on them!
"It's a false choice. It doesn't give a complete picture of politics throughout the UK," Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones says of tonight's leaders' debate. "It's a four-party system in Wales and Scotland. So why should the views of people in Wales and Scotland not be listened to in the same way as the views of the people in England?"
Doctorcdf tweets: The Greens have the only manifesto that calls for deep change rather than modest tinkering.
Read Doctorcdf's tweets
Our ideas are costed, they've been assessed by independent financial experts, Ms Lucas insists. She is answering questions from journalists and denies that her policies are based on "fantasy economics". She says the Greens simply believe in a "different kind of economy" based around higher taxation not public spending cuts.
Headline Green Party policies include scrapping the replacement for the Trident nuclear missile system, redirecting £30bn of investment in roads towards public transport instead, and introducing a 50p income tax rate for all those earning more than £100,000.
"Now is exactly the time to review the economic system that brought us to the brink," Ms Lucas says. She calls for a "Green New Deal", combining economic growth with environmentalism.
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas takes the stage, holding up her manifesto with the pledge: "Fair is worth fighting for".
Reduce corporation tax for small businesses, "ensure banking is a force for good" and reopen post office branches that have closed. Deputy Green Party Adrian Ramsey leader is outlining some of his key manifesto policies. He also says the party would get rid of tuition fees for students and keep the NHS local, rolling back the expansion of polyclinics.
Over now to the launch of the Greens' manifesto in Brighton. The party's Darren Johnson kicks things off wearing a very green tie. He says the party has already "punched above its weight" and could make a big difference in a hung Parliament.
No sign of the Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for Wales Roger Williams at the Welsh Liberal Democrats manifesto launch, says BBC Wales' political editor Betsan Powys. Party leader Kirsty Williams says: "It's not my fault I'm more photogenic than poor old Roger!" There are six photos of her in the Welsh manifesto and none of him. The party says he was invited but had commitments in Brecon and Radnorshire.
News from the Tory press office - they want all Ken Clarke fans to know he's battling his way through the ash and will make his campaign commitments this afternoon in Perth. Panic over then.
A close aide of Gordon Brown says the PM went to bed early last night and got a good night's sleep, reports the BBC's Matthew Sydney. A suggestion of "eight hours?" got the response, "well, I wasn't in the room with him".
Foreign Secretary David Miliband says on Twitter: "Heading for North West. Unlike Tory candidate for Bolton West I have not brought spouse to ask tame questions." He was referring to Susan Williams who came under fire for taking a question from her husband during the BBC's town hall debate.
She's not even taking part, but Samantha Cameron says she "a little nervous" about the debate. But there'll be no hiding behind the sofa - she says she'll definitely be watching. As for her husband, he says he's taking things "easy-ish" today ahead of tonight's big event.
Lee Matthews, from Warrington, Cheshire, writes: I wonder whether tonight's overly staged-managed debate will achieve anything meaningful or just descend into the petty, puerile, points-scoring, playground politics that makes people question why we would trust any of the parties with the future of the country.
"These poor guys, they've been up all night, having their eyebrows plucked, learning their spontaneous jokes" - Professor Mary Beard, American historian and women's rights campaigner, has a certain degree of cynicism about tonight's debate.
For those interested in fashion, Sarah Brown is channelling Jackie O today in a blue trench coat, while Samantha Cameron is wearing a bright pink top and cardigan.
As the Conservative Party's bus arrives in Halifax, West Yorkshire, a woman shouts through her neighbour's window, 'Come on out and get your best frock on', reports the BBC's Chris Buckler.
In US presidential TV debates, the candidates are often barely known to the public, but that's not the case here, says the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson. With the possible exception of Nick Clegg, voters already have an opinion of these men and tonight's debate will either reinforce or dent.
Gordon Brown is meeting mothers and children at a SureStart centre in Manchester. He tells the BBC it's things like SureStart he wants to protect under a new Labour government. He also says he's looking forward to tonight's debate, calling it "a chance to talk directly to the people of this country". Despite prompting, he won't admit to feeling nervous.
Benchalmers tweets: All the parties are saying "we'll be fair". It's the most vague meaningless sentiment around. Why not something more inspirational?
Read Benchalmers's tweets
"Volcano disrupts election campaign" is not something I ever expected to write. But travel disruption caused by the clouds of ash over the UK has put paid to visits by both shadow business secretary Ken Clarke and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth to Scottish target seats this morning.
"I was falling off my chair at Cameron complaining about not having enough time [to answer questions]," says former Labour spin doctor Charlie Whelan. "It was his spin doctor who argued to have these tight rules and now Cameron's coming and saying, 'I'm not sure the public will like this because of the rules.'"
The cabbie taking me to the venue for one of Gordon Brown's campaign visits tells me the prime ministerial debates are "a joke" because of all the rules, says the BBC's Liz Shaw.
Labour will also launch its Welsh manifesto this morning. A key pledge, unveiled a day early on Wednesday, was to assign every cancer patient in Wales a dedicated worker to coordinate their care.
Concerns over the possible sale of the port of Dover will occupy the UK Independence Party today. Leader Lord Pearson is heading there and will be out and about with the party's Kent candidates.
"Sit down! The rules don't allow you to make a cup of tea while this is on."
The Daily Telegraph's
Matt cartoon depicts a television set from which an angry presenter berates a viewer for daring to take their eyes off the leaders' debate.
It's cartoon time again.
shows a floored Nick Clegg, with the caption, "We apologise for interrupting this manifesto launch, but Gordon Brown has just admitted a mistake."
depicts a political "ascent of man" through Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron, culminating in Nick Clegg. "The forward march of liberal democracy," it says.
"I think that people feel shut out of the political system. They feel that if they are angry about something the system doesn't respond to them" - so says former communities secretary Hazel Blears. Herself a casualty of the expenses scandal, Ms Blears admits "there is a feeling sometimes that politicians are all part of a different kind of class".
Conservative sources say David Cameron is a bit tense ahead of tonight's debate, reports the BBC's Carole Walker. He's had several rehearsals with shadow immigration spokesman Damien Green playing the part of Gordon Brown, shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt as Nick Clegg and shadow schools secretary Michael Gove as the presenter. He's also received some coaching from Anita Dunn and Bill Knapp, American communications experts who advised Barack Obama.
There are 76 rules governing how the TV debates will work, but veteran pollster Sir Bob Worcester thinks they'll almost all go out of the window. "It just won't be able to be controlled like that. There will be moments of anger, there will moments when somebody will do something really silly like looking at their watch and there will be events, dear boy, events."
The Lib Dems will launch their manifesto in Wales this morning, with a pledge to increase the country's budget by £125m through a green economy stimulus package. They will also promise to secure greater devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly.
Westminster big guns will head to Scotland this morning to campaign in key constituencies. Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable will be in Edinburgh and Fife, while shadow business secretary Ken Clarke will visit the Tory target seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.
Speaking of the States, the leaders' debate has piqued the interest of
the Washington Post.
"UK mimicking US-style politics", says the paper, calling it "a pivotal change to the process of electing a prime minister".
"It's not the debate itself, it's the soundbites the morning after" that really matter, according to Tom Scotto, an expert on US politics and voting behaviour from the University of Essex. "People who are mostly undecided don't necessarily always watch the debates, but they do read the newspapers the day after," he says. "They are good for generating soundbites which perhaps shift the attention of the campaign onto an issue, onto a particular point of the economy, and so forth."
Some more views on the live debate which, although it's not starting until 8.30pm, is dominating the morning news: Health Secretary Andy Burnham tells GMTV it's an "exciting moment in the election campaign" and "breaks new ground in British politics". Conservative frontbencher Caroline Spelman says her party leader is "a bit tense but he's only a human being" but says he's got "good communication skills". Senior Lib Dem David Laws says "it's about time" there was a TV debate and he hopes the British public will be "the wiser for it".
Apparently both Labour and the Conservatives are playing down their chances in tonight's live debate - a tactic BBC political correspondent Norman Smith recalls was used in an episode of the US TV show The West Wing. He thinks the debate will be a cautious affair as all three leaders find their feet. No-one is in a rush to be the first to make a gaffe.
It's a big day for the Green Party today too - they're launching their election manifesto - promising to introduce a "living wage" of about £8.10 an hour - the minimum wage is £5.80 an hour. The Greens are fielding more than 300 candidates - leader Caroline Lucas has her eyes on the Brighton Pavilion seat, which she hopes will make her the party's first MP.
Hello - welcome back, it's a big day for the three main party leaders who will face the first British party leaders' debate later in Manchester - apparently in the same building where they film Coronation Street. Whether there will be much drama remains to be seen - the debate itself will be subject to strict rules - 76 in total - and the audience will not be allowed to boo or jeer - a far cry from their weekly prime minister's question clash.