British Prime Minister David Cameron won the last major TV contest of Britain's election campaign broadcast on Thursday evening, a snap Guardian/ICM poll showed, with 44 percent of viewers saying he had performed best on the night.
But despite taking the lead in the last television debate before Britain goes to the polls on May 7, the outcome of the election is still too close to call with polls putting the Conservative leader neck-and-neck with his Labour rival Ed Miliband.
During the BBC “Question Time” debate, broadcast live from the northern English city of Leeds, each party leader was subjected to 30 minutes of questions from a live audience.
Cameron insisted confidently that the Conservative-Liberal coalition which he leads had put Britain’s economy back on track and that his party, lambasted from the left for making huge cuts to the UK’s welfare bill, would continue to build on restoring the economy.
Cameron came under repeated pressure to explain how he would find cuts to the country's welfare budget worth 12 billion pounds and was asked why some Britons were reduced to using food banks.
He did not offer new detail on where he might find budget cuts, but said job creation would help reduce the need for cuts.
"I am not saying everything is perfect, I'm saying we have not finished the work. That is why I am so keen to do another five years," he said.
Miliband came under pressure on Labour's spending record when it was in office from 1997-2010, with one member of the audience accusing Labour of having “bankrupted the country”.
He said he did not think Labour had overspent in government despite leaving behind the country's biggest deficit since World War II.
No deal with the Scottish nationalists?
Miliband used the event to say he'd rather stay in opposition than do a deal with the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has been urging him to consider an arrangement to lock Cameron out of power.
Paradoxically, if Miliband has any hope of forming a coalition, he will need the support of the SNP, which polls predict will all but wipe Labour off the Scottish political map.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who said last week that Miliband would “change his tune” after next Thursday’s vote, said she was appalled by his comments.
"He sounded as if he was saying that he would rather see David Cameron and the Conservatives back in government than actually work with the SNP," she told a televised audience on a separate programme afterwards.
"If he means that, then I don't think people in Scotland will ever forgive Labour for allowing the Conservatives to get back into office."
The poll, which surveyed 1,288 British adults after they had watched the programme, said Miliband came second, with 38 percent, and Clegg third with 19 percent.
There were no major gaffes, although Miliband briefly lost his footing and stumbled off the stage, something his critics in the country's mostly right-leaning press seized on with glee.
Britain faces an exceptionally close parliamentary election on May 7, with most polls showing Cameron's party level, or narrowly ahead of or behind, Labour.
Importantly, the polls show that no one party is on track to win an overall parliamentary majority, making another coalition government the likeliest outcome.
And with the Liberal Democrat party currently in coalition with Cameron’s Conservatives, predicted to lose a significant chunk of its seats (even party leader Nick Clegg is predicted to be defeated in his constituency), the exact makeup of the post-election government remains anyone’s guess.
Date created : 2015-05-01