Leaders back on the campaign trail

Published: Friday 1st May 2015 by The News Editor

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Party leaders will resume their campaigning across the country after the final televised set piece saw them put under intense scrutiny with just six days to go until the General Election.

David Cameron – crowned the “winner” of the BBC Question Time special by a snap poll – will seek to capitalise by pushing for votes in the north of England with a pledge to ensure it grows at least as fast as the rest of the country.

Labour leader Ed Miliband used his segment of the broadcast to make his strongest-worded declaration to date that he would not countenance any deal with the Scottish National Party in the event of a hung parliament after May 7.

“If the price of a Labour government is a coalition or a deal with the SNP, it is not going to happen,” he said.

With Labour facing a wipeout in its former Scottish stronghold amid a post-independence referendum surge of support for the SNP, he will today urge Scots to reconnect with their Labour-supporting history.

The Labour leader will evoke the names of Labour’s Scottish founder Keir Hardie and the architects of devolution John Smith and Donald Dewar, and ask Scots who their parents and grandparents would want to lead the country.

But the Prime Minister will press home his party’s message that a Labour administration reliant on the votes of the SNP – which polls show on course to possibly take every seat north of the border – would be forced to divert cash from the rest of the UK.

“The next five years will see a northern surge – and, economically, it will be the most exciting time to be here since the industrial revolution,” he is expected to say.

“But it all depends on having a Conservative government.

“If the Scottish Nationalists are in charge, propping up a weak Ed Miliband, the north won’t get a look in. Transport projects in the north will get cancelled. Investment in science and industry in the north won’t happen.”

Mr Cameron however is certain to face more fresh pressure to explain which benefits would be cut to find the £12 billion welfare savings promised by the Tories – an issue over which he faced public anger during the TV show.

In a 90-minute Question Time special, the two leaders and Nick Clegg faced a studio audience separately in Leeds Town Hall, in a format devised after Mr Cameron refused to take part in a head-to-head encounter with his Labour rival.

Mr Cameron rejected suggestions he was planning to slash £8 billion from child benefit after Liberal Democrats revealed details of proposals discussed by the coalition, including means-testing and restricting them ton under-16s and two children per family.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said – but asked if that a mounted to an “absolute guarantee” not to cut child benefit or child tax credit, he said child benefit was “not what we need to change”.

Mr Miliband said he could give the guarantee and seized on Mr Cameron’s answer as evidence ” tax credits and child benefit are on the ballot paper at this election because millions of families risk losing thousands of pounds”.

The Labour leader also resisted pressure to say the last Labour government overspent and said he was “absolutely, deadly serious” about balancing the books in the next parliament.

An instant poll of Question Time viewers conducted by ICM for The Guardian found that 44% thought Mr Cameron had “done best on the night”, against 38% for Mr Miliband and 19% for Mr Clegg.

But only 6% of the viewers in a small sub-sample said they had their mind changed by the programme, while 87% said it would make no difference to how they would vote.

Among this group the Mr Clegg performed best, with 32% of switchers saying they may now vote for the Lib Dems, compared with 25% who said they would switch to the Tories and 20% to Labour.

He was also forced to reject claims Labour overspent while in office and promised the party was “absolutely, deadly serious” about balancing the books in the next parliament.

Tory Leader of the Commons William Hague said Mr Miliband had failed to rule out attempting to govern as a minority administration propped up by SNP votes.

“Ed Miliband ruled out coalitions and deals with the SNP, but what he means of course is that every day there would have to be a vote, a negotiation, and everybody held to ransom by the Scottish National Party,” he said.

Mr Clegg – who did not rule out a coalition deal with whichever of the main parties won fewer seats if a deal could not be struck with the largest – pressed the Tories to “come clean” over welfare cuts.

“Where they are going to take the equivalent of £1,500 off eight million of the most vulnerable families? We can only assume that they are looking at the kind of plans which they floated some years ago in government,” he said.

Published: Friday 1st May 2015 by The News Editor

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