Joy upon joys! The First EVER Prime Ministerial Debate is upon us. Such a momentous occasion should only be marked with a liveblog. Starting now! (reversed to chronological order for the archives)
2032: Well, we’re running a little late, but no surprise. ITV had to squeeze in the maximum ads in the time they had left. 90 mins of prime time with no ads starts right here!
2033: Overly dramatic string quartet there…
2033: That’s the last time we’ll hear the audience clap. I think…
2034: Clegg seeming confident. Angry frown when he mentioned bankers. Nice start.
2035: Why did Gordon Brown not get an introduction from Alistair Stewart? Brown refusing to look down the camera lens.
2036: Cameron and Clegg both looked into the camera. That’s the right move in these circumstances when you’re addressing the nation. Cameron looking a little nervous.
2037: First subject: immigration. Brown confident, reeling out policies he’s done. Thunderous in his delivery as usual. Sly glance at the lights on his podium; they’ll tell the speaker if they’re going over time.
2039: Not much debate so far. It’s a question and answer session with them virtually ignoring each other’s presence. Clegg trying to refer to his opponents, but will the rules allow a proper debate to break out?
2040: Brown is able to crow about the things he’s done in government to buttress his arguments. It’s reliant on the other two to point out where he’s failed. Are they going to do that? Cameron instead coming back to his own anecdotes.
2042: You couldn’t put a cigarette paper between the three parties on immigration any more. Depressing. Clegg confirming that now everyone loves the anti-immigration bandwagon.
2043: Clegg still the only one trying to strike up a debate. Cameron takes the bait, but it turns into a love in. Interesting reaction shot of Clegg. Brown gets nasty. Much better!
2044: Cameron declines Brown’s argument, and reverts to talking points. Brown starts talking over him. Clegg chooses to respond by addressing the nation down the lens, while Brown and Cameron bicker.
2045: Brown embraces Clegg. Will they gang up on Cameron?
2047: Cameron asked Clegg a question, and then totally ignored him. No eye-contact in the reaction shot. Body language, Mr Cameron!
2049: New subject: burglary. Cameron jumps on the Tony Martin bandwagon. Clegg attacks ID cards. Not a populist argument, but he’s brave enough to take it on. Brown fidgeting in the wide shot. Pay attention, Gordon.
2050: The slow zoom ins as they reply are very irritating.
2051: Cameron going for the liberal line of treating drug addicts rather than putting them in prison. I like it. Clegg still unsure about whether to talk to the audience in the room, or the audience on the sofa.
2052: Clegg sounds like he’s trying to sell Mark Oaten’s “tough liberalism” of 2005. Not much debate happening here though. Ignoring each other, reproducing their own stories and their own narrative. Oh my. Interest waning…
2055: Brown talking in percentages. That’s not the way to win. Brown gets the first laugh from the audience. The rules have been broken!
2056: Brown talking over Cameron. Seemingly enjoying himself. Alistair Stewart has to stop Brown to let Cameron in, who quickly resorts to yet another anecdote. Clegg interjects, actually addressing the other two.
2057: Cameron’s replies are mostly anecdotes. Brown’s are mostly numbers. Brown gets another minor titter, but the last word goes to Cameron. Brown smiling in that eerie way in the background.
2058: At last, a bit more of a major topic. Political reform.
2100: Clegg and Brown both getting on their high horses so far. Righteous indignation. Too late now. Brown stealing Lib Dem policies too.
2101: Cameron looking a litte flushed under those studio lights. But he’s certainly in his stride now. Cameron focusing on political reform that would reduce costs.
2102: Clegg highlighting the hypocrisy of the Tory and Labour parties. Lib Dems are no saints either, but it sounds good right now. Cameron frowning. Brown not paying attention. Clegg laughs incredulously at Brown’s sudden conversion to radical reform.
2103: Cameron’s turn to bash Labour hypocrisy over failure to reform the Lords. Very good. Cameron appealing to the nation’s wallets, time and time again. Now Brown says he’ll cut the cost of politics more than the Tories. The nation is confused.
2105: The leaders are taking too many notes. They look like they’re ignoring each other. Cameron attacks Clegg regarding Michael Brown’s dodgy donation to the Lib Dems. Handbags at nine paces, gents.
2106: Brown bizarrely saying the debate level needs to be raised. There didn’t seem to be a problem before then. Brown still trying to embrace Clegg; Clegg rejecting those advances.
2107: Sounds like a consensus has broken out over the right of recall for MPs. What an unusual place for that to happen.
2108: Clegg got the last word there on political reform. Bashed Brown again over blocking reform. Good finish, I think.
2110: The debate turns to education. Platitudes galore here. This one will be a snore fest. Cameron heading into statistics mode; and then a personal anecdote.
2111: Clegg’s turn. We all want to cut bureaucracy, of course. It never happens. The voters don’t care.
2113: Brown glossing over the government’s lamentable failure in the education system. Hopefully the other two will pick him up on it.
2114: Cameron now turns to discipline. Very Michael Howard, circa 2005. And another anecdote. He’s desperate to paint the picture of broken Britain…
2115: Clegg makes fun of the fact that he can’t ask questions of the other person. Clegg looking confident, actually addressing the questioner now. Looks better that. Cameron turning to the left and right often. Tries a joke, fails. Tries another anecdote. Stop it!
2116: Brown trying to make the issue about cuts in departmental budgets. Cameron takes the bait and rams home the economic messages on NI. Even though it’s about education. Nice.
2117: Cameron is losing the battle of the reaction shot.
2118: Clegg gets another opportunity to smack down the bickering children. He’s doing very well.
2119: Alistair Stewart changes topic, even though it hasn’t changed, because they all started talking about it anyway. It’s the economy, stupid.
2122: Cameron gets the messaging right on the jobs tax. Clegg’s turn, equally on message. And then Brown. The leaders are each very good when they get their chance to make the initial response to the question. The briefings and training have clearly paid off.
2123: I pity the poor floating voter watching this hoping to work out who to vote for.
2124: Clegg takes on the issue of waste. He makes a fair point on the cutting required, but none of the parties are truly honest about the depth of the slashing that needs to be done.
2125: Brown dancing on a pinhead on this issue of waste. He “fears” for the economy if Cameron cuts £6bn this year. It’s hardly going to “wreck” the recovery, Gordon.
2126: Clegg proposing consensual politics about deficit reduction. Cameron refuses Clegg’s plan. Why would he? He wants to do it himself. Why not get all the credit? Cameron embraces Clegg, just slightly. Cameron wants tax cuts, but alas, can’t afford them. Clegg gets another go.
2128: Cameron back to his messaging. Save £1 in £100. Repetition is boring for those of us who hear it day in, day out. But for the millions of normal people, it’s spot on.
2129: Cameron just made the only sentence in the world containing Corus, Logica and Mothercare.
2130: Clegg keeps getting the opportunity to attack the other two after they’ve bickered with each other. Luck is on his side.
2131: New subject: the armed forces.
2132: Clegg gets to attack Trident. Will anyone confront him on that? He’s had an easy ride so far.
2133: Brown takes the opportunity to praise the armed forces. Clegg missed the boat there. Bet you he’s kicking himself.
2134: Cameron now joins the armed forces love in. Clegg turns to anecdotes to attack the poor funding of the British Army.
2135: Brown decides to start answering a question he wasn’t asked. This is a domestic policy debate, isn’t it? Why are we talking about international issues? Well, because Brown has been allowed to get away with it.
2136: Cameron needs to lighten up a little. Brown, naturally, is not able to do that. But Cameron can. He needs to put his positive message across.
2138: Clegg tries to engage the others in debate again, this time over Trident. Cameron gets a chance to talk about it now. Cameron and Brown deploying the classic right-wing argument. Brown playing the PM card. Enjoying the power of his privileged position.
2139: Clegg defending himself on Trident very robustly. But now he appears to have his left hand in his pocket. Impolite, but relaxed. Naughty.
2141: Cameron caught out on the reaction shot again. Shifty leftward glances out the corner of his eyes to Brown.
2142: Subject shifts to healthcare. More platitudes to follow. Very little difference between the parties here. There never is.
2143: Cameron deploys his NHS love argument. With accompanying anecdote, naturally.
2145: Cameron caught frowning again while Brown talks over the reaction shot of Cameron. Cameron’s body language and approach is good when he’s talking. When he’s not…
2147: Brown has not dropped a clanger in the whole debate. No stuttering either. That shouldn’t mean he has done well.
2148: Clegg trying to create a division on healthcare. There is none. Next subject please.
2149: Cameron turns to an anecdote again. I wish I’d been keeping score.
2150: Clegg delivers his closing message early. On tax. Even though we were talking about healthcare. Cameron goads Clegg, but actually plays into his hands. Clegg is then granted another chance to repeat his message by Alistair Stewart!
2153: Final topic is going to be social care for the elderly. A big issue… Cameron gets his message over. Clegg tries again to push the consensual approach. I think, on this subject, it will play well to the audience.
2155: Brown resolutely on message. Clegg frowning at Brown’s phoney agreement with him. Debate fizzling out now. The spinners are on standby.
2156: Cameron gets another anecdote in. Now we’re having a carer lovefest. I’ve seen enough.
2158: This part of the debate is very polite and respectful. Hardly a firey note to end on. Alistair Stewart might have picked a different order for the questions if he had another go. Too much overlap.
2200: Clegg acknowledges that they’ve all been consensual here. Hand still in pocket. Clegg gets the last word, again. He’s been very lucky indeed.
2201: But no luck on the closing statements. Clegg goes first. Staring down the lens, but referencing the audience, and questioners in particular. Good finish, as usual, on the message of “there is an alternative”. Should have tried the four themes of the manifesto though.
2202: Brown seems to have enjoyed the debate, it has to be said. He’s always said he “relishes” the opportunity to debate policy with Cameron, and that seemed to show. He’s not comfortable looking into the camera lens though. Laying down the attacks on Cameron only. Looking forward to the next debate, apparently!
2204: Cameron gets his chance to go for the positive message, at last. Change. Change. Leadership. He did well too, but not relative to the high expectations I had.
2206: And it’s over. Have to say Clegg is the winner. I would say that, but don’t take my word for it. The polling is looking like that too. Though these are very early returns!
2212: Reaction is phenomenal. It’s just like the aftermath of a US presidential debate. This is what we need in British politics.
2215: BBC going for the reaction lines, courtesy of IPSOS MORI. I don’t think they’re the same type as the ones used in US elections though.
2220: ITV chose to ignore the thing that many millions of people watched, on their own channel, which has made history in this election, in favour of a story that affected tens, maybe hundreds of thousands. Crazy.
2227: YouGov, Angus Reid, ComRes all giving it to Clegg. And yet Sky News has a bizarre poll taken after one hour (why?) which gives it to Cameron. Who did your poll, Sky News?
2241: The post-debate spinning is well underway, but there can be no denying it… Clegg was the winner. Cameron underperformed, but was still solid. Brown bored us to tears, but didn’t stumble. A more complete analysis tomorrow…