The British general election remained on a knife-edge after no party leader managed to land a killer blow at the final set-piece TV event of the campaign.
With prime minister David Cameron refusing a head-to-head debate with the the only potential rival for his job, Labour’s David Miliband, the pair, plus Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, each separately faced 30 minutes of intensive questioning by voters in a BBC special.
It was seen as perhaps the last major opportunity for either of the main party leaders to make a decisive breakthrough.
Most polls show the two main parties neck and neck, well short of being able to win the 326 House of Commons seat needed for a majority.
Cameron came under heavy fire from the carefully balanced audience over claims that the Tories are planning massive £10bn raid on child benefit and tax credits for children if they get back into power.
Miliband, who has had a better campaign than many predicted — although he was left red-faced as he slipped while leaving the stage — kept his cool in the face of a personalised onslaught against him by the Tories.
The Labour Party leader appeared most under pressure when he refused to accept that the last Labour government had overspent when in office. Miliband also came under fire over his refusal to follow the Tory lead and offer the British people a referendum on quitting the EU in 2017.
Clegg insisted that extra funding for education would be a “red-line” issue in any coalition negotiations, but was roundly criticised for reneging on his pledge at the last election not to raise tuition fees.
The Conservatives ratcheted up their campaign attacks that a vote for Labour would hand backdoor power to the SNP and lead to the break-up of the UK after a leading nationalist said the party would push for another independence poll within five years.
Former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars said that the vote demand would be the first line of the party’s manifesto for the Scottish assembly elections next year. With a second poll predicting the SNP could win all 59 seats in Scotland, the party was set for a pivotal role in the next British parliament when votes are counted.
Miliband again ruled out a deal with the SNP, insisting he would rather Labour was not in government than make even an informal arrangement with the nationalists. Under Britain’s first-past-the-post system, where the candidate with the highest vote takes the single member constituency, the poll deadlock would look set to see the Conservatives narrowly emerge as the largest party in parliament, but be well short of a majority.
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