The leaders’ debate, chaired by David Dimbleby and held in Westminster’s Central Hall, was visually striking from the outset, hosting only five leaders in comparison with the seven from the previous debate.
Present (in order of the line-up) were: Ed Miliband of the Labour Party; Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru; Natalie Bennett of the Green Party; Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP; and Nigel Farage of UKIP, placed on the far right.
But it was Prime Minister David Cameron’s absence which provoked the first strong words, leading SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to say:
I think it’s a disgrace that David Cameron isn’t here tonight to defend his record
The absence of the Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg, it should be noted, was not, as he tweeted, a decision made by his party.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) April 16, 2015
The smaller line-up began with their opening statements, with Nigel Farage perhaps offering the most memorable line:
I have a feeling I’m the only one saying what a lot of you at home are really thinking.
Leanne Wood began by stating that her party would work alongside others who opposed austerity measures, also noting that people were getting tired of seeing grey, stale politics.’
Ed Miliband also criticised David Cameron’s absence in his opening speech, alongside some of his party’s pledges, including an energy bill freeze until 2017.
The leaders were asked five questions, concerning the national debt, immigration, lack of affordable housing, Trident, and possible coalitions between the parties.
When a member of the audience asked what immigration was having on public services, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett took the opportunity of rounding on Nigel Farage and UKIP policy, followed by Nicolas Sturgeon an Ed Miliband.
Gallery of the developing debate during which the BBC used ‘a worm’ graphic indicator which rose and fell according to the approval of the audience reaction.
Key Moments in the Debate
From the very outset, it was UKIP leader Nigel Farage who attracted the most criticism from his fellow nominees and indeed from the audience.
On the issue of national debt, Mr Farage argued, as he did in the previous leaders’ debate, that too much money was going “over Hadrian’s Wall”.
Much to the scorn of Nicola Sturgeon, this point was also picked up by many on social media.
It’s really odd how Farage keeps citing Hadrian’s Wall, what with it being built by immigrants in order to keep Britons out.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmithTimes) April 16, 2015
It was moments like these that led to Nigel Farage criticising the audience for being ‘too left.’ After boos from the audience had ensued, Mr Farage deflected the reaction and stated that:
The real audience is sitting at home
One of the biggest talking points of the evening however is likely to be the propositions, and rejections, of potential coalitions, if a party were to fail to gain a majority at the election.
Responding to the audience member’s question, Nicola Sturgeon gave the following response:
If he’s (Ed Miliband) prepared to be better than the Tories, I’m prepared to work with him.
It was a proposal that was swiftly rejected by Ed Miliband, who cited fundamental differences between Labour and the SNP, one of them being on the issue of Scottish independence.
But such a comprehensive rejection may prove costly at the election, as the polling site May 2015 pointed out:
— May2015 Election (@May2015NS) April 16, 2015
Nicola Sturgeon pointed out the potential of such a coalition agreement that could prove decisive in the election:
Don’t turn your back on real change Ed and let David Cameron back into Downing Street.
It was this exchange that led Nigel Farage to offer the following line:
Many English voters are worried about the Scottish tail wagging the English dog.
However, it was on the topic of immigration that led to some of the fiercest exchanges.
As in the previous debate, Nigel Farage referred to foreign ‘health tourists’ who overburden the NHS when seeking medical assistance.
Natalie Bennett offered the reply that one in four NHS doctors are foreign born and 40% of NHS staff are foreign born. She also added that:
I am an immigrant, I chose to become a citizen to make my life in Britain.
Alongside her defence of immigration, Natalie Bennett highlighted that only she had mentioned the issue of climate change during the debate, a key issue for many young voters.
She scored another round of applause from the audience after condemning the UK’s stance on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, a country she accused of promoting instability in the Middle East.
We need to stop pumping our own arms into that region.
The issue of defence was also contentious, with Leanne Wood joining the calls of the Green Party and the SNP to reject the renewal of the Trident defence system, estimated to be £100 billion.
The Plaid Cymru also received applause from the audience after stating that her party was committed to ‘balancing the books’ but ‘not at any cost.’