Last night, David Cameron and Ed Miliband put themselves before the electorate in the first televised contest of the General Election campaign.
The party leaders faced an onslaught from veteran broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and answered direct questions from a live studio audience. While there was no knockout blow, no career ending gaffes or even any new policy announcements, the contest left the public with a good deal to mull over.
The first question on people's minds this morning will be who won? This is a tougher question than you may think. A snap Guardian/ICM poll gave Cameron a clear lead of 54 per cent compared with Miliband's 46 per cent. But journalists and Tory staffers were not so quick to declare an outright victory for the Prime Minister.
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Among those who said they may change their vote, Miliband came out on top, with 56 per cent to Cameron's 30 per cent. However, some questioned whether the sample, of 80-90 people or eight per cent of those polled, was truly representative.
Political pundits were quick to say Miliband out-performed expectations. The Labour leader had an advantage in going second and starting out with questioning from the studio audience. Miliband usually performs well when talking to voters, but faced tough questions on Labour's economic policy and the bitter contest with his brother over the party's leadership.
When facing Jeremy Paxman, Miliband repeatedly apologised for the mistakes of the previous government, particularly on inequality and immigration. He took a robust approach and shot back at Paxman on the question of whether he was tough enough to be in the top job. “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I am tough enough to be Prime Minister.”
Commentators praised Miliband's strong and well-prepared responses. However, his strong performance must be measured against the expectations, which were already pretty low. Conservative journalist Tim Stanley called it for Miliband.
Ed Miliband won. And must've earned a lot of respect. #BattleForNumber10— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) March 26, 2015
Stanley's Telegraph colleague and long-time Miliband critic Dan Hodges gave Cameron a slight win but added the Tories' decision to rule out a head to head debate appeared vindicated.
Suspect we're about to see Cam decision not to go head to head vindicated. Edges debate, but expectations will hand Ed moral victory.— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) March 26, 2015
Cameron appeared rattled by Paxman's combative interview style. He struggled to answer why his government hadn't kept its promise on eliminating the deficit and cutting immigration. Never the less, the ICM poll was not the only result showing a win for the Prime Minister.
A YouGov "First Verdict" survey for The Times showed 51 per cent of viewers thought Cameron had the edge over Ed Miliband. With pundits giving Miliband better-than-expected reviews but the polls handing it to Cameron, the event can largely be seen as a score draw.
Sky News, which hosted the debate with Channel 4, has put together some of the leaders' best responses.