The seven-way party leaders’ debate takes place this evening. It gives Ed Miliband his single chance to confront David Cameron in TV debate during the campaign.

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 07.57.22Debate 1) The line-up

“The agreed line up behind the podiums will be, from left to right: Natalie Bennett (Green), Nick Clegg (Lib Dem), Nigel Farage (Ukip), Ed Miliband (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and David Cameron (Conservative).” – Daily Mail

Debate 2) The format

“Each leader will be quizzed on four topics, with questions to be put by members of a studio audience. It is expected that each of the leaders will make a brief opening address at the start of the programme and at the beginning of each subject for discussion, to include the economy, the NHS, immigration and the future of the UK.” - Daily Express

Debate 3) The compere

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 07.59.02“The two-hour event, which begins at 8pm, will be moderated by ITV News presenter Julie Etchingham in a live broadcast on ITV, on ITV News online, on the ITV Player site and via the ITV Player app. Each of the leaders has been allocated a podium lit with appropriately-coloured lights, and arranged in an order determined by drawing lots. The questions will not have been seen by any of the leaders ahead of time. ” –  ITV

Debate 4) The audience

“ITV newscaster Julie Etchingham will chair the debate and questions, in front of a 200-strong specially selected audience, divided along lines of gender, age, ethnicity and social class lines to reflect the electorate. The formula used to decide the make up of the audience means it should comprise 40 undecided voters: 35 Tory and Labour supporters; 28 Lib Dem voters; 21 Ukip supporters; 14 SNP and Green backers; and seven Plaid supporters.” - Daily Telegraph

Andrew Cooper:  Beyond the Westminster bubble, nobody cares about the TV debates…

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 08.02.26“The drawn-out saga of the 2015 election TV debates is a classic example of a small-picture issue. Those in the Westminster bubble have obsessed over the debates. Will they happen? If so, how many? What will the format be? Which leaders should be included? Whose fault will it be if they don’t take place? The truth is that, apart from the tiny (and profoundly unrepresentative) cross-section of the electorate who are partisan activists and political true-believers, nobody cares.” – The Guardian

(…And Daniel Finkelstein says: no-one will win.)

“How can you tell who will have won tonight’s television debate? I have bad news: the answer will probably be no one. And even if someone does win, it may be hard to tell exactly who.” – Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (£)

The campaign: The Conservatives. They send in Sam Cam…

CAMERON Samantha Carla“Mrs Cameron visited Abbey Court school for children with learning difficulties in the battleground seat, where she met children and staff. Asked whether her husband is prepared for the TV election debate this evening she said: “He doesn’t seem too nervous,” adding: “I’m very glad it’s him and not me.” – The Sun (£)

  • Cameron: ‘I’m 13th cousins with Kim Kardashian’ – Daily Express

…As Osborne lays into Labour in Leeds

“George Osborne has admitted that he would find it “very difficult” to live on a zero-hours contract. The chancellor conceded that there were workers who “want to work longer hours, people who want job security” but said the best solution was a stronger economy that would create jobs.” - The Times (£)

  • Boris backs “our campaign for a fair deal from the BBC” – Birmingham Post

The campaign: Miliband is the centre of the election storm over zero-hour contracts…

MILIBAND Red Ed“68 of the party’s MPs were revealed to have employed staff on zero-hours contracts over the past two years; 22,000 more of the contracts were handed out by Labour-run councils, including Doncaster where Mr Miliband is standing for MP.” – Daily Mail

  • Latest Miliband interview: He owns up to being a geek, and says he cried at film of gays who went to aid of striking miners - Daily Mail
  • Miliband calls for Rosamund Pike to be first female James Bond – Daily Express
  • Give Miliband the job and it could cost your yours – Dominic Raab MP, The Sun (£)
  • Red Ed has zero clue how business works - Daily Mail Editorial
  • Miliband’s flawed swipe at zero-hours contracts – Financial Times Editorial
  • No ‘Band leader – Sun Editorial

…As more business leaders pile in the Daily Telegraph (currently in full-blooded Torygraph election form)

“17 more senior figures have now added their names to the letter, including Paul Kelly, the CEO of Selfridges, David Suddens, the chairman of Dr Martens, and Simon Pryce, the CEO of BBA Aviation, which employs 13,000 people. Other new signatories to the letter, signed in a personal capacity, include Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, Michael Grade, the chairman of Pinewood Studios and Michel de Carvalho, chairman of Citi Private Bank.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Ball stalls on more 40p rate fiscal drag under Labour – The Times (£)
  • Attack on Labour by its former business supporters sinks Prescott claims that they were all Tories… – The Sun (£)
  • ….But Labour say Tory offensive played into their hands – Financial Times
  • Labour’s charm offensive in the City fizzles out – Financial Times
  • Tristram Hunt claims that the Conservatives would close 1000 SureStart centres – The Independent
  • Labour canvasser urinates in bush in Milton Keynes South-West – The Sun (£)

Lord Ashcroft Sheffield Hallam poll follow-up: it found Clegg two points behind Labour in his constituency

CURSE OF CLEGG one“Nick Clegg’s chances of holding his parliamentary seat took a knock today with a poll suggesting that he is trailing Labour by two points in his Sheffield Hallam constituency…However Lord Ashcroft’s latest survey of Lib Dem battleground seats provides better news for Mr Clegg’s party in other constituencies.” – The Times (£)

  • His local University claims that he will win, because the Greens will take votes from Labour — The Sun (£)
  • Murdoch’s grandson will vote Green – The Independent
  • LibDems nervously eye post-election future – Financial Times
  • LibDems will triple statutory paternity leave to 6 weeks if re-elected – The Guardian
  • Ashcroft poll shows UKIP on the slide – The Sun (£)

UKIP’s immigration policy – back to the 1950s. Farage gears up for his big push (via UKIP’s daily journal in this election, the Daily Express)

“The UK Independence Party leader said quitting the EU and introducing a points-based system could bring immigration down to levels seen from 1950, before a mass influx from Eastern Europe….Asked what annual levels he would like, he said: “A return to normality, a return to about a net 30,000 people… what we had for 50 years from 1950.”  - Daily Express

  • Wacky website lets you paint using Farage’s face – Daily Express
  • We’re the only Party that offers a real alternative – Nigel Farage, Daily Express

The SNP sets out its “full fiscal autonomy” plan

UNION FLAG torn“Deputy First Minister John Swinney said Holyrood should control “virtually all the taxes and spending” on public services and the welfare system as he set out the SNP’s plan for “full fiscal autonomy” today. Opponents accused him of “fantasy economics” and demanded the Scottish Government publish their calculations about the impact of their plans, amid fears it would result in a multi-billion pound black hole in the public finances.” - Scotsman

  • Labour attacks SNP spending plans – Financial Times (£)
  • “Labour will provide £1 billion extra for Scotland’s NHS with the help of a mansion tax on 100,000 homes in the south-east of England, Jim Murphy will announce today.” - Daily Telegraph
  • Teacher accused of forcing pro-SNP views on children – Herald Scotland
  • Sturgeon: the most dangerous woman in Britain – Graeme Archer, Daily Telegraph

Meanwhile, the markets are troubled…

“Jitters hit the markets yesterday as analysts warned investors that Britain faced the prospect of a weak and ineffective government after a dead-heat election.” – The Times (£)

Think-tank news 1) Train more NHS staff rather than spending 2.5bn on agency nurses, says Civitas

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 08.12.10“Healthcare researcher Edmund Stubbs said: “Staff shortages in less desirable specialities are met by employing overseas-trained, locum and agency staff at great expense and with a possible risk of reduced care quality and patient safety.”  Nurses and midwives trained abroad make up roughly 10 per cent of the total workforce, while around 26 per cent of NHS doctors are foreign nationals, Civitas said.” – Daily Express

Think-tank news 2) MigrationWatch warns that Scotland could be a back door for higher immigration to England

“Migrants arriving in Scotland under a more relaxed policy towards asylum, students and family reunions would be likely to move south where there are large migrant communities. The report by MigrationWatch UK, the think-tank that campaigns for lower immigration, highlights the likely impact on migration to England and Wales of any deal in which a minority Labour government offered concessions on immigration to the Scottish Nationalists.” – The Times (£)

Michael Gove: In defence of Christianity

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 08.21.44“But Christian charity — far from being applauded — is seen by many as somehow suspect. Again and again, as a politician, I have found that when people who were open and proud of their Christian faith wished to help others — in education, in social work, in prisons and in hospices — their belief was somehow seen as an ignoble ulterior motive sullying their actions. Their charity would somehow be nobler and more selfless if it weren’t actuated by religion.” – The Spectator

  • Illiberal liberals turn Christians into lepers – Tim Montgomerie, The Times (£)
  • Cameron’s Easter Message is a defence of making work pay – Daily Mail

Security News in Brief

  • Putin issues threat over Balkans – The Times (£)
  • War on Islamic State shifts east – Daily Express
  • Inmates on the run can return to open prisons, court rules – The Times (£)
  • Girl accused of plotting to join Kurdish rebels to fight as a guerrilla against ISIS - Daily Mail
  • Iran nuclear talks extend past deadline with new proposals expected – The Guardian
  • Terrorists have been training in rural Wales – Wales Online

Other News in Brief

  • Northern Ireland Assembly members’ expenses to be cut – Belfast Telegraph
  • Dan Poulter, Tom Brake and Gavin Shuker strip naked for Men’s Health – Daily Mail
  • Couple win a million pounds in the Euro lottery for the second time in two years – The Sun (£)
  • Corporate backlash hits anti-gay bills - Financial Times
  • A fifth of US college students suffer from exploding head syndrome, study finds – The Independent

And finally…

  • Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 08.23.35“The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, is due to attend a service in Sheffield Cathedral, where she will hand out coins – known as Royal Maundy – to South Yorkshire pensioners. David Young, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive Passenger Transport Executive deputy interim director general, said: “Her Majesty The Queen’s visit to Sheffield Cathedral is a fantastic occasion for our region.” - The Star

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