The Full Election Story: 16 April

By Jon Kelly, Andy McFarlane and Sarah Bell

  • Nick Clegg says the positive poll ratings following his performance in the first live prime ministerial debate in Manchester were "just the start"
  • Gordon Brown says neither of his opponents had answers to the problem of sustaining the economic recovery
  • SNP leader Alex Salmond says it was a "democratic outrage" that his party and Plaid Cymru were excluded from the debate
  • David Cameron launches a nationwide X Factor-style singing competition called School Stars
  • Live text reporter: Jon Kelly, Andy McFarlane and Sarah Bell

2359The Daily Mail reports that Nick Clegg is warning his buoyant party members not to get "carried away" by their poll "bounce". And it will be business as usual for him on Saturday's campaign trail when he visits a hospital. Labour will be out in force again, while David Cameron is expected to set out policies on flexible working. Meanwhile, the English Democrats launch their manifesto and Plaid Cymru are set to reveal weather presenter Sian Lloyd as a celebrity backer.

2342Health Secretary Andy Burnham issues a barbed response to Conservative frontbencher Liam Fox's assertion on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions that Labour's guarantee that every cancer patient will see a specialist within two weeks of first seeing their GP is "largely worthless". Mr Burnham claims the Tories agree that people need to be diagnosed as quickly as possible and that Mr Fox's comments show "jaw-dropping confusion".

2323The Guardian also suggests the "knives are out" for Mr Clegg, with Labour and the Tories vowing to "train their guns" on the Lib Dems' "eccentric, surprising" policies. Knives and guns? Perhaps Mr Clegg had better rethink the policy of not renewing Trident.

2310It looks like the backlash against Nick Clegg has begun. Whatever the polls may say, Tory leader David Cameron tells the Telegraph the Lib Dems will be disregarded as serious contenders come 6 May. "I'd love to cut taxes like Nick Clegg is talking about but that's irresponsible and our credibility would be in shreds," he says, adding that he'll leave the Lib Dem leader to explain his party's policies.

2256Mr F from Plymouth, UK, writes: The reaction to the debate has proved one thing conclusively - people hear what they want to hear. Looking through the papers, the politicians' quotes and the blogs, you could be forgiven for wondering if everyone was watching the same programme.
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2251EnglishVoice tweets: Watch Breakfast Telly on the BBC tomorrow - English Democrats should get a mention
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Read EnglishVoice Tweets

2231 Richard Allan from Edinburgh, UK, writes: I find it astonishing that the Lib Dems have side-stepped criticism of their plans to align capital gains tax to income tax. Surely this is a bigger deal than any media outlet has realised?
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2228While the talk all day has focused on which leader's TV performance swayed viewers in their favour, the BBC found the electorate in the leafy marginal constituency of Richmond Park, south-west of London, more concerned about local candidates than the party figureheads.

2217A YouGov poll for tomorrow's Sun suggests support for the Lib Dems has jumped 8% after last night's TV debate - putting them in second place. That would see the Tories on 33%, Lib Dems on 30% and Labour on 28%, although the quirks of the UK electoral system would ensure Labour remained the largest party with 276 seats, the Tories with 245 and the Lib Dems with just 100. BBC political analyst David Cowling, however, warns that further polling evidence would be needed before a true reflection of the nation's mood emerges.

2202 Jo, writes: I still do not know which one to trust - except for Brown - he's already demonstrated he doesn't understand the difference between making a commitment and then breaking it....
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2153The weighty topics of the economy, MPs' expenses and Afghanistan don't get a mention on the campaign doorsteps of Harwich and North Essex, according to Tory candidate Douglas Carswell. Rather, he's having long conversations about sweet peas and dahlias. "Local opinion seems pretty uniform. One should not be planting tomatoes out quite yet," he says. Perhaps he's freshening up an old party slogan, along the lines: "vote blue, go green-fingered".

2138For most people, Friday night marks the end of the working week - time to crack open a beer or sip on a cold glass of white wine. Not John Prescott, he Tweets that he's in Weymouth, at a rally for Jim Knight. "Such a beautiful place," he says. Read John Prescott's Tweets
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2130The Washington Post's Tom Shales says last night's debate seemed "stuffy and straight-laced" to a US audience: "Host, or 'presenter', for the broadcast was the very, very British Alastair Stewart, who never said 'thank you' when he could say 'thank you very much indeed'. They love 'indeed' over there; also 'proper' as in 'a proper British school' or 'a proper cup of tea' or a proper anything, really. But then this was, clearly and engagingly - considering how unfamiliar many of the names and faces and references were - a very proper debate. Welcome to the club, kids." Read Tom Shales's blog

2124Mr Page, from Ipsos Mori, also tells BBC that if the Lib Dems win the 326 seats needed for an overall majority, he'll "run naked through the streets". What effect will that have on the UK's floating voters?

2122Ben Page from polling organisation Ipsos Mori tells the Campaign Show that Nick Clegg did very well and polls coming out may show them making up ground on Labour and doing the best they ever have. But he says: "That does depend on all the moon and the sun and the stars being aligned over the next few weeks. And of course, now, the hounds of hell are going to be after the Liberal Democrats."

2118The biggest piece of advice Alastair Stewart says he would give the leaders for the remaining debates is to remember the questions come from the public and are subjects on their mind so to answer "as directly and as straightly as you can possibly manage".

2108Alastair Stewart tells the BBC's Campaign Show he was nervous before presenting the historic first leaders' debate. He also said there was genuine nervousness and tension between the leaders, but said the event was "very civilised".

2044Lib Dem energy spokesman, Simon Hughes, tells BBC Radio 4's Any Questions there are various reasons why his party's leader did well in the debate, including his "clear vision". He adds: "And because - and this is why many years ago when Nick asked me if he should stand for parliament I encouraged him - because people saw him as he really is, which is somebody with passion and commitment, and a belief that the system has failed us for 65 years, and there's no earthly reason why we can't have a change from red and blue and blue and red to a fundamentally different sort of politics, which would give people much more power, and Britain a much fairer future."

1955Business Secretary Lord Mandelson says last night's TV debate exposed David Cameron's weakness under scrutiny and claims the Tory leader doesn't fancy a grilling from Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman. "After last night we now know why. He doesn't like scrutiny and he doesn't like tough questions. The contrast with Gordon [Brown], who has agreed to do the Paxman interview, is obvious."

1948On to more serious matters and a packet of crisps bearing David Cameron's face has just landed on my desk. However, I'm assured the Conservatives' advertising budget doesn't extend quite so far as to see them sponsoring household staples. Rather, it's an election-themed stunt by a snack manufacturer. My colleague, munching through a packet adorned with an image of Gordon Brown, tells me the "politi-crisps" are all the same flavour - plain old salt. The firm wants people to vote in an alternative election - to find their favourite flavour - and says that unlike the general election, not all the choices amount to the same thing. Ouch!

1933Lord Layard, one of 77 leading economists to warn that Conservative plans for spending cuts risk tipping the economy back into recession, tells Sky's Jeff Randall it would be "extremely foolhardy" to cut public spending before private spending has risen sufficiently to compensate. Robert Chote, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, says he sympathises with that view but that Labour's plans to reduce the deficit are "not ambitious enough over five years".

1859SNP campaign co-ordinator Stewart Hosie claims Lib Dem calls to limit business rate rises "would be deeply damaging for jobs and small businesses in Scotland". The Lib Dems say some firms could be hit by increases of 100% following a re-evaluation and want the rises capped at 12.5%, or 5% for smaller business. However, Mr Hosie says this would result in smaller enterprises subsidising large firms and the public sector, seeing "supermarkets pay less and tens of thousands of small businesses paying much, much more".

1852There's no idle chit-chat in the supermarket aisles from David Cameron. Talking to staff at an Asda store in Wolverhampton, the Tory leader has a bleak message about Labour's plans to raise National Insurance: "It's not just something we pay as employees, it's also something the business pays for every employee they have. We're crazy to be putting up a jobs tax next year just as the economy is recovering."

1842Maura O'Malley, deputy editor of Midwives Weekly, says the main parties all say they are committed to high-quality maternity care. "All admirable stuff," she says, but wonders: "When power has been assumed by the winning party(ies), will these manifestos and the proposals contained within them be discarded like yesterday's newspapers?" Read Maura O'Malley's blog
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1822Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru's candidate for Arfon, attacks the Conservatives' Welsh manifesto as "patronising". He says they "don't really mean" a pledge to grant a referendum on devolution of law-making powers. Mr Williams complains that Westminster Tories blocked an order - supported unanimously in the Welsh Assembly - which would have allowed assembly members to pursue their own policies on homelessness and affordable housing.

1810A bit of celebrity backing for the Lib Dems now. Former Roxy Music star Brian Eno, who advises the party on youth issues, says people shouldn't worry too much about a hung Parliament but simply hope for effective opposition. "It isn't really so much a question of who becomes... the governing party but what other voices are able to be heard in parliament? If the Lib Dems are heard more, I think things will be a lot better."

1756The bookies are going bananas about the prospect of a Lib Dem election victory, with William Hill saying seven in every 10 bets they have taken today - the biggest betting day of the campaign so far - were backing that outcome. The Tories are still odds-on to win, though.

1728Labour and the Conservatives are going to have to change their tactics, says BBC deputy political editor James Landale - not only in terms of how they handle the forthcoming debates, but also also in terms of how they deal with the Liberal Democrats.
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1708Nick Clegg, too, is doing his best to dampen down expectations. "I think people get slightly carried away with these things," he tells an audience in Hull, adding: "All I am trying to say is that I think some people are getting a bit hyped-up about this." Mr Clegg promises he will keep his feet "firmly on the ground".

1703Following the first prime ministerial debate, find out which leaders 5 live listeners would like to meet and the questions they'd ask them on the 5 live election story.
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1701OK, there's a consensus among the political class that Nick Clegg was the winner in last night's debate. But will it make any difference at the ballot box? Joe Twyman from the polling firm YouGov urges us to be cautious. "What we don't know is how finishing top of the debate will translate into an increase in opinion poll ratings," he says. Sounds like one of Donald Rumsfeld's "known unknowns".

1652Guido Fawkes - aka blogger Paul Staines - is feeling pleased with himself. "On Tuesday Guido predicted that Clegg would be the big winner," he writes, "and so it came to pass." Read Guido Fawkes' blog
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1638Chancellor Alistair Darling is in Dundee meeting figures from the city's burgeoning computer games industry. He warns that Conservative plans to begin spending cuts immediately would "choke off the recovery before it has taken hold". He does, however, admit that Nick Clegg had a "good night" last night, adding: "He deserves credit for that."

1629 Thatdanstewart tweets: Someone in our New York office asked me, "Who's this Nick Clegg guy, then? He's really trending." I didn't know how to answer. Read Thatdanstewart's tweets
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1628Former Conservative frontbencher Ann Widdecombe, who has stood down as an MP, urges David Cameron to exploit the "holes" in the Lib Dems' arguments following Nick Clegg's moment in the spotlight. She adds: "The difficulty with the Liberals is - because they've never been in power and they never have to form a government - they can't be held responsible and accountable for anything."

1622What is it about supermarkets today? Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has been visiting an Asda in Aberdeen to highlight, he says, the fact that millionaire businessmen pay a lower rate of tax on their capital gains than cleaners pay on their wages. It is, adds Mr Kennedy, a "crying shame" after 13 years of Labour government.

1617The BBC's Liz Shaw says: I'm standing outside a back exit at Tesco in St Leonards, East Sussex waiting for the PM to leave. A woman next me with a full trolley of shopping is getting hot in the sun. I just heard another shopper say: "They kept that quiet. You think they'd have got the red carpet out for the old boy"!

1608Labour's general election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander concedes that Nick Clegg "won on style" in last night's debate. But he says there is still everything to play for. "The debate has energised this contest, many voters have not yet made up their minds - this election is wide open," Mr Alexander adds.

1603David Cameron has presented me with a birthday present! A large box of chocolate muffins which are currently being enjoyed by all aboard the Conservative bus en-route to Wolverhampton, says the BBC's Carole Walker.
Carole Walker

1601 M Goddard from Somerset writes: I was disappointed at the lack of research that went into the letter which David Cameron sent to me. Ok it was just a standard letter trying to win my vote. But how presumptuous of Mr Cameron to think that I'm a Mrs! If I was to vote for him and he went though with the married persons tax allowance would he be that presumptuous then and pay me a bonus of £150?
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1559Last night David Cameron talked about the case of a young man who was killed when a burglar set fire to his home. Now Susan Dugdale - whose 21-year-old son Ryan was the victim in question - has thanked the Conservative leader for highlighting the case. Mrs Dugdale, a 51-year-old nurse, is unhappy about the fact that her son's killer could be free in four-and-a-half years. She says of Mr Cameron: "If he's going to do something about this, I will be voting for him - whoever does something about it, I will be voting for them, these sentences are just pathetic."

1551A sunny outlook for Plaid Cymru, who have won the endorsement of weather presenter Sian Lloyd. "I am a very proud Plaid supporter, having grown up in a household in Neath where politics were discussed non-stop," she says. And indeed Ms Lloyd became a well-known figure on the political circuit during her one-time engagement to senior Lib Dem Lembit Opik.

1539Carole Cochrane, chief executive at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, is pleased that all three of the main party leaders paid tribute to the "unsung heroes" who provide unpaid care during last night's debate. But she adds: "Let us not kid ourselves that by singing their praises we will solve the problems they face, such as poverty, ill-health and isolation". This will take, she says, "more than a five-minute debate".

1530In a bakery in East Renfrewshire - the constituency being defended by Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy - George Osborne argues that the planned National Insurance increase would be " a damaging tax rise for the Scottish economy". The Shadow Chancellor adds that 100 Scots businesses have backed the Conservatives' opposition to the move. Around him, workers prepare X Factor shortbread which will be handed out to would-be stars at auditions for the talent show tomorrow.

1513UKIP chairman Paul Nuttall says the issue of immigration was not properly addressed during last night's debate. "There were three people on that platform who were fiddling while Rome burns," he tells the BBC. "They constantly talked about non-EU immigration, disregarding the fact that there's been a million EU migrants in this country since 2004 which is undercutting British workers and driving down wages."

1509Gordon Brown is asked by a sixth form student whether he would serve a full five-year term if re-elected as prime minister or stand down sooner, as Lord Mandelson recently hinted he might. "I think you will see another five years of Peter Mandelson, definitely," Mr Brown replies. "But you will see another five years of me."

1504 Will Graham from Streatham, London, writes: Well personally I thought Cameron ended up with Clegg all over his face - and even a bit of Brown sauce with the jibe about the Tory posters. Interesting debate, just a shame they all had such pre-prepared answers rather than thinking on the spot.
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1440Owen from London writes: Whilst I can see why Nick Clegg did well last night (he had by far the easiest job), I don't understand the praise for Cameron. He utterly failed to substantiate what little policy he outlined, and instead relied on anecdote after anecdote, presumably as part of some pre-meditated attempt to show that he was a 'man of the people'. Say what you like about Brown's presentational skills, at least he seemed to have a good understanding of the facts.
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1437Geoff from Sunbury-on-Thames writes: I loved the debate, and I think it will have a huge bearing on what type of person the parties elect as their leader in the future. Last night, Clegg was good but he had by far the easier task. Cameron too gave a good performance but missed opportunities to put the other two in their place. Brown looked weary, and very insincere.
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1434On a similar theme, the leaders' debate "confirms that we use Twitter for posture, position and rebuttal", says Dr Andy Williamson, director of digital democracy at the Hansard Society. On Facebook, he observes, the comments "were much less acerbic".

1429An analysis of what was being said on Twitter as the debate unfolded comes up with some interesting conclusions, says the BBC's Rory-Cellan Jones. Read dot.Rory
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1425 Andrew Haskell from Romsey writes: Thank you nature for the volcano. It's far more interesting than this boring non stop election dribble and no, I will not be voting. Politicians are all crooks.
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1423The website ConservativeHome updates its projection of those ITV/ComRes poll figures that caused such a flurry earlier.

1418 Shadowdancerbnr tweets: Are we suddenly voting on celebrity allegiances? I choose Eddie Izzard over Gary Barlow. Read Shadowdancerbnr's tweets
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1416Transport Secretary Lord Adonis - himself a former Lib Dem - continues Gordon Brown's strategy of showering Nick Clegg's supporters with love. Labour and the Lib Dems are, he tells BBC Radio 4's The World At One, "very close together" on policy. But, he adds, the key issue for voters "is whether they wish to see a Labour government after 6 May or a Conservative government".

1410 Helen Morgan writes: Nick Clegg was weak, he would be a poor leader. We would have no defence if he was in charge and no capping of people coming into the UK, he's very European.
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1407The Lib Dems are still in a bullish mood. A spokesman says 250 people joined the party online straight after last night's debate.

1402Robert Kirkwood writes: What a real relief to see some honesty and sense from the Tories. Cameron may have not won the battle but has the strength to win the war! A good debate by the chap with the yellow tie, who is he?
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1347More news from the bookmakers: William Hill slashes odds on the Lib Dems winning an outright majority from 300/1 to 25/1. They are now a measly 14/1 to be the largest party. These prices - the shortest in the party's history - were sparked by what the firm calls "the biggest betting frenzy on the Liberals since Lloyd George was prime minister". Was gambling so well-organised in 1922?

1335SNP leader Alex Salmond, visiting a renewable wood-fuels production plant in Grangemouth, on the Firth of Forth, says their manifesto will include "a series of actions designed to support jobs and the renewables industry in Scotland" when published next week.

1328Tigerspaw17 writes: I didn't watch the debate and could you please refrain from pushing party politics onto the people by calling such sad spectacles "historic". The people are no longer interested in politicians and will boycott the polls at the general election.
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1325The BBC's Peter Henley, in Winchester, says: "Leader debate reaction from [shadow immigration minister] Damian Green (who played Gordon Brown in Tory rehearsals). He says they turned out just as expected: 'We were practising dealing with a dour, aggressive man who didn't want to defend his record and that's what happened'."

1321David Cameron, en-route to Wales by battlebus, plays down the Lib Dem's post-debate poll boost, saying he won the key battle - between Labour and the Tories on tax rises and cutting waste. "The prime minister was very negative... basically nothing new to say. But it just didn't get off the ground at all," he adds.

1311Bookmaker Coral cuts its odds on the Lib Dems gaining seats on 6 May. The party is now 4/1 to win in 70 to 79 constituencies, compared with 5/1 before last night's debate. They are now 50/1 to be the largest party, in from 100/1. "We have been seen an extraordinary surge of support for the Liberal Democrats on every election market this morning, all sparked by Nick Clegg's TV performance last night," said spokesman Simon Clare.

1300Ackwern writes: It seems pretty evident that David Cameron's lacklustre performance has rattled many Conservative supporters to the point of self-deception in believing their man did well. He was far less convincing than he sometimes appears in the pre-prepared PMQs knockabout and looked oddly far more of a "fish out of water" than Brown or Clegg.
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1256The BBC's Matthew Sydney says: "In a sixth form college in Hove, a student told Gordon Brown she hadn't been taught politics at secondary school. In reply, the PM joked: 'I was never taught politics at secondary school. It probably shows'."

1242Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd dismisses the "sterile debate" last night. He says: "Not once did we hear the word Wales or Scotland mentioned by any of the leaders." Plaid and the Scottish National Party, he says, "offer a different choice" - protecting schools and hospitals.

1236 Dobiegr writes: The most important thing is that people use their vote. You only get one chance every five years - if you're too lazy to exercise your right to take part in the election then you deserve everything you get.
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1234Hannah Mackenzie, the 67-year-old from Huddersfield who enjoyed a twirl with Lord Mandelson at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool yesterday, is effusive in her praise for the business secretary. "People either have dancing within them or they don't," she tells the Daily Politics. "He certainly has."

1227David Cowling, editor of the BBC's Political Research Unit, has been examining that ITV/ComRes poll. He says: "This was not a voting intention poll but a panel of people who watched the debate and then gave their voting intentions afterwards. This is not a national random sample of the population - some 46 million people - but a sample of the nine million who watched the debate and we have no certainty that the sample even speak representatively for them."

1221The BBC's Jane Hill says: PM now talking to 250 students at a sixth form college in Brighton. A sign above the college entrance is in Latin - and translates as "nothing without labour". Party officials insist it wasn't chosen for that reason!

1218The BBC's Phil Herd says: Just left Warrington where the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg did his first event of the day after the leaders' debate last night. He told me he hadn't read all the papers but had seen the headlines and was pleased with his performance. He wound down with his team over a glass of wine and a chat about how it went and after a fry-up for breakfast was keen to get back on the campaign trail. On the battle bus now, where for the first time this campaign, cars are tooting their horns as they pass us.

1215On Twitter, Douglas Alexander, Labour's general election co-ordinator, flags up a New York Times story which "notes that UK politics joined the television age later than Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia". Follow Douglas Alexander on Twitter
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1209That poll of 4,000 people, taken after the debate, also saw the Conservatives and Labour both drop three points to 36% and 24% respectively.

1204 Liberal Democrat support went up 14% to 35% following last night's leaders' debate, according to a poll by ITV/ComRes.

1156 Since joining the campaign trail in support of the Tories, Gary Barlow has become one of the most talked about, joked about and criticised people on Twitter. Alex Cocksworth tweets that she's "disappointed" by him while ManOnTelly says everyone is having a go at him: "Take That you evil man!" But Charlesm186 isn't in the mood for jokes: "Oh dear," he tweets, "all of this because Gary Barlow is a Tory. Didn't hear quite the same comments when David Tennant spoke for Labour."
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1153 Gordon Brown tells BBC Sussex that neither of his opponents in last night's debate had answers to the problem of sustaining the economic recovery. With planes grounded across the UK by a cloud of dust generated by a volcano in Iceland, Mr Brown apologies for the inconvenience but says "safety comes first".

1147The BBC's Katie Townsend says: Eddie Izzard arrives to support Gordon Brown at an event in Brighton. He tells BBC News he believes Mr Brown is the right person to be running the country and the economy. He did watch last night's debate and thought all three did well. He said Nick Clegg was bound to do well as he was the most unknown but Gordon did great. He did admit, though, that he's not sure celebrity endorsement of politicians helps.

1140William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, says on Twitter: "Very amusing seeing hardened lobby correspondents crowding round Gary Barlow for autographs." Read William Hague's Tweets
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1134 Kpunk99 tweets: You'd think Clegg gave the greatest oratorical performance ever the way it's been mythologised. He was the best in a dull debate. That's it. Read Kpunk99's tweets
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1133Gordon Brown tells BBC Sussex that night's debate had a "far better atmosphere" than Westminster. He says that when "the dust settles", the night will be judged on the issues raised and not on the performances of the three leaders.

1126SNP leader Alex Salmond, who is Scotland's first minister, says it was a "democratic outrage" that his party and Plaid Cymru were excluded from last night's debate. He says the event fell flat because "we had three Westminster politicians who agree with each other on 99% of the issues".

1123A bit more on School Stars, the nationwide singing competition announced by David Cameron. Global Radio, the UK's largest commercial radio group, is backing the scheme, Mr Cameron says, as are the British Phonographic Industry and UK Music. The contest will begin in the autumn, with the final due to be held in June 2011.

1115The BBC's Matthew Sydney, travelling with Gordon Brown, says: Eddie Izzard, who appeared in Labour's latest election broadcast, will join Gordon Brown campaigning in Sussex today. Mr Izzard and the PM are aboard a train to the south coast packed with families and teenagers, many of whom seem intent on a day of underage drinking at the seaside. The comedian and marathon runner was offered a creamy pastry from a tray en-route - he politely declined. A senior Brown aide then tried to tempt some of the press pack and a fellow passenger with the pastries, saying it was "redistribution - it's something we believe in".

1108David Cameron told pupils at the school he's visiting that he bought the latest album by Florence and the Machine but also likes "depressing 80s stuff" - Radiohead, the Smiths and Blur, says the BBC's Carole Walker. Gary Barlow said Robbie Williams might rejoin Take That. He says: "We'll see. I think its inevitable one day we'll get back together."
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1102 Jamie P from London writes: The object was for the country to get a close-up, exposed and raw view. What we got was a neutered audience, under-performing TV production and a badly managed stage show. Bring back the soapbox and strip politics back to its rawest roots.
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1100The BBC's James Cook says: The prime minister has been speaking to reporters on a train to Brighton about night's TV debate. "I enjoyed it. I think it's part of the debate we should have in Britain. I think it's energised the campaign." Asked how he assessed his performance, Mr Brown says: "It's up to the people to judge in the end. People will see where the substance lies." As to whether he had had a pint after the debate, like David Cameron, he laughs: "No. I got into a car and came to London."

1050The Conservative leader is launching an X Factor-style singing competition called School Stars. The winner will get to record a song with Gary Barlow. He says music is good for the British economy, good for society and "good for the soul as well".

1046David Cameron says he's glad to be joined by Gary Barlow, because last night he felt like he was part of "Britain's worst boy band".

1041Gary Barlow is on stage leading a a rendition of Take That's The Greatest Day, accompanied by a band of school children.

1037David Cameron is out on the stump with none other than Take That's Gary Barlow at a school in Cheshire. The BBC's Vikki Clein says pair were mobbed by screaming children. One girl, when asked, said she wanted see Mr Barlow because he is "well fit", and the Conservative leader because "he's alright".

1032 Lee Harris from Southampton writes: Great TV debate. I was an undecided voter until I had a chance to hear the Liberal Democrats - after last night they will be getting my vote as they seem to be the only party who are dedicated to a fairer Britain. I think Cameron has been exposed for protecting the rich and Gordon for not bringing change to our country.
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1027The Lib Dem leader tells the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson why he believes his debate performance was widely considered a success. Nick Clegg says there is a "longing" from many people for "something different".

1021Nick Clegg is greeted with a rapturous reception from Lib Dem activists in Warrington, Cheshire. He tells them last night's debate was "just the start" and the "big message" for the campaign is that the Lib Dems are the party of fairness - on which, he says, Labour have failed and the Conservatives can never deliver.

1016Notwithstanding those high viewing figures, you can't please everyone. The Daily Mirror's cartoon from Kerber and Black shows two old dears watching the debate, with one complaining: "I still think they should have done it on ice."

1009The American pollster Frank Luntz, veteran of many presidential debates, believes it was "very clear before the evening was over that Nick Clegg had won". He says David Cameron had the best opening statement, but Mr Clegg, over the course of the night, had the superior soundbites.

1005 Stuart Glover from Leicester writes: I am very confused about the debate last night because in the build up, everyone was saying that the winner should be detirmined by substance rather than style, yet after the debate almost all the comments I've heard have been about style e.g. how they were standing, who was most relaxed, Clegg looking into the camera - as a nation we need to decide if we're going to make judgements on substance or style and at least have the decency to stick to the decision!
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1003Writing in the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh accepts that Nick Clegg cleverly "fuelled the rift between the Big Boys". But, says Mr Kavanagh, "it was David Cameron who had the audience nodding in agreement" when immigration, the NHS, the police and value for taxpayers' money were discussed.

1000The viewing figures for last night's debate reveal that it had an average audience of 9.4 million, peaking at 9.9 million. By contrast, Coronation Street beforehand had 8 million.

0952Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey hits back at Tory frontbecher Michael Gove, who warned that Nick Clegg's party will suffer as a result of greater public focus on their programme. "We look forward to being scrutinised, because when people look at our policies they tend to like them," Mr Davey tells the BBC News Channel.

0944The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts is full of praise for last night's contest, believing it was "better than the US presidential debates". He confesses to being entertained as all three contenders "jabbered away at 100 miles an hour. Even old donkey Gordon".

0930Evidently the Independent's Dave Brown was not won over by any of the party leaders last night. His cartoon shows Nick Clegg with a Pinocchio-style elongated nose, David Cameron speaking with a forked tongue and Gordon Brown with a burnt posterior.

0924The Guardian's Mark Lawson says there were "no gaffes, game-changes or flop-sweats" in the debate. Read more commentators' reactions in our round-up

0910Lib Dem bloggers are basking in the glow of their leader's positive poll ratings following the debate. "I cannot tell you how good it is to be able to type the words, 'Nick Clegg was the clear winner', and know that not only is it my view, but that it's the public view, too," writes Stephen Tall on Lib Dem voice.

0903 Anthony Rosevear writes: I must have watched a different debate to everyone else last night as I saw an embarrassing performance from Nick Clegg, in which he consistently attacked the other parties, repeated the same phrases and called for the need for 'something different'. He did not clearly identify any policies and simplified very complex issues such as crime. He mentioned the conveyor belt of criminals over and over again, and it was only Gordon Brown who identified the need to address the complex social issues behind drug use and crime.
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0859Alan Johnson, the guitar-playing home secretary, has a suitably musical metaphor to sum up the party leaders' performances. "This was kind of politics unplugged, they all had to do an acoustic session and I thought that worked very well," he tells Sky News. Naturally, Mr Johnson says Gordon Brown "took the prize on substance".

0855Sincere apologies for neglecting the most important question of last night's debate: who was the best dressed? Robert Johnson of GQ redresses the balance. He tells BBC Breakfast that "you couldn't get a cigarette paper between how they looked". In their identikit outfits, he says, "it was like watching the Supremes".

0841Shadow Schools secretary Michael Gove warns the Lib Dems that their higher profile in the wake of Nick Clegg's debate performance will mean extra scrutiny, too. He tells Sky News that the public will realise Mr Clegg's policies are "outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric".

0831 coral_politics tweets:Cameron seems to have been the loser - a Tory majority is in to 4/6 with money for a Hung Parliament @ 11/8 Read CoralPolitcs tweets:
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0826David Cameron tells BBC Radio Manchester that he felt "totally vindicated" by last night's debate. He says he "just enjoyed being able to talk to people at home, to address the questions that I think are the big questions at this election, like immigration and the economy and crime". The Tory leader, however, acknowledges that Nick Clegg had a "good debate". Mr Cameron reveals that he relaxed afterwards by having "a pint" with friends in Manchester.

0809Conservative blogger Iain Dale accepts Nick Clegg won, but "only by a short head". David Cameron, he says, "put in a very strong performance" and won many of the rounds by force of argument. Gordon Brown, by contrast, "was full of negativity and radiated very little optimism". Read Iain Dale's blog

0803For Labour minister Tom Harris was disappointed by the debate, concluding in his blog that it was "pretty dull". He says most people were waiting for one of the three men to "implode" but that it didn't happen. He believes Gordon Brown scored some points over David Cameron on police funding and despite the perception Nick Clegg performed best, his answers on Trident were laboured. Read Tom Harris's blog

0758Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror - not a man commonly noted for his effusive praise of the Conservative leader - believes the biggest casualty of the night was David Cameron. He "had the most to lose and he lost the most," Mr Maguire tells BBC Breakfast.

0754 All the Lib Dem leader had to do was be a bit more folksy than the other two - and say "look, I just think we should all work together and come up with a solution that benefits everyone" by way of answer to every single question - and he ran away with it.
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0752A full-scale inquest is under way, conducted by Fleet Street's top pundits, into why Nick Clegg, seemingly, came out on top. On BBC Breakfast, Andrew Pierce of the Times expects there will be "head-scratching" in Camp Cameron about why the Tory leader "didn't perform as well as he should have done". As for Gordon Brown, he says, "expectations were low and he didn't live up to them".

0746 Kyle Birch tweets: Personally, I can't wait for the next debate. Maybe if DC and GB actually attacked NC for tripe it might be better. Read Kyle Birch's tweets
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0744 Matthew Kiernan tweets: Got to love leader's debate spin..."our man won"..."no our man won"… Read Matthew Kiernan's tweets
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0741With the instant polls suggesting Nick Clegg came out on top during last night's debate, Lord Ashdown positively gushes with pride on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The former Lib Dem leader says the public saw "the real Nick Clegg" for the first time and believes the debate "potentially was a game-changer". But he warns: "This is serious stuff now - they are going to go for us, you watch."

0640 What was it like in the "spin room", where the parties' senior lieutenants lined up to put the best gloss on the debate for their leader? BBC political correspondent Norman Smith says it was like a scene by 16th Century painter Hieronymus Bosch, as party heavyweights lined up to bayonet their rivals. It was a mixture of the surreal, absurd and fantastical, he says.

0621 So, who's saying what? William Hague thinks David Cameron showed he is "the change that this country needs". Alan Johnson says it turns out Gordon Brown "didn't have anything to worry about" and won on "substance". For the Lib Dems, Vince Cable says Nick Clegg was "well ahead" and the most commonly used phrase by the other leaders was "we agree with Nick".

0606 Well, it's early but the dissection of last night's prime ministerial debate is well underway. The newspapers say Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg came out of it best - but of course party heavyweights have each been calling it for their man. Alan Johnson, William Hague and Vince Cable have all been on the airwaves backing their respective leaders.



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