Bring on the balloons and the party poppers: it’s the final week of the election campaign.
One week today the polling stations will open. One day later we probably still won’t know precisely who will make up the next government. Which is why you should stay here, in the friendly arms of the Guardian live blog, which will take you through all the twists and turns from 7am till late every day until … well, who knows.
I’m Claire Phipps, starting the blog today. I’m on Twitter @Claire_Phipps, so please come and share your thoughts there or in the comments below.
The big picture
Well, now we know. The Sun has come out for the Tories to “stop [the] SNP running the country”.
In other news, the (Scottish) Sun has come out for Nicola Sturgeon: “Why it’s time to vote SNP.”
Although Ed Miliband told Russell Brand in his YouTube interview – a contender there for sentences you never thought you’d write – that Rupert Murdoch is “much less powerful than he used to be”, the Sun front pages are consistent with their proprietor’s recent tweets, in which he praised Sturgeon’s “great performance” in the first TV debate and approved of her “clobbering” of Miliband in another.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, David Cameron continues his pumped-up, “bloody lively” language by promising to “let rip” in the final week of the campaign (no sniggering at the back, please):
Look, when you are a prime minister you have to measure your words carefully, you have to measure your speeches carefully.
But sometimes it is the time to throw caution to the winds, let rip and tell people what you really think.
- “The world is looking at Britain and saying ‘you have built some great foundations in these last five years’. And the logical thing when you’ve got great foundations is to build the house on top of them.”
- “A good life means that sense at the end of the day, when you get into bed and pull the duvet over you, you think this is working for me.”
- On a boosted SNP at Westminster: “You would have people having a decisive say over the government of the UK who don’t want it to exist.”
- On Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander: “They did the right thing in coming into coalition. We have worked well together … So on that level I do respect and like them.”
Friends and foes are fluid concepts today, though, as another Guardian exclusive has the very same Danny Alexander taking “the extraordinary step of lifting the lid on Tory plans for an £8bn plan to cut welfare, including slashing child benefits and child tax credits”. The full story is here.
Alexander reveals that in 2012 a paper by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith suggested limiting child benefit and child tax credit to a family’s first two children; removing higher rate child benefit from the oldest child; means-testing child benefit, and removing it altogether for those aged 16-19.
A Tory spokesperson sighed: “This is desperate stuff from Liberal Democrats who are now willing to say anything to try and get attention. We don’t recognise any of these proposals and to be absolutely clear, they are definitely not our policy.”
You should also know:
- Latest polling by Lord Ashcroft suggests Clegg will lose his seat in Sheffield, and Nigel Farage will fail to win in Thanet.
- A van carrying more than 200,000 ballot papers for the parliamentary and council elections in Hastings and Rye, and Eastbourne has been stolen.
- The Milibrand interview has so far had 517,869 views, at least some of them by people who are not journalists.
For the full rundown on Wednesday’s news, read Nadia Khomami’s summary here.
Now to the polls. With one week to go:
After the frantic pace of the last few days, today is quieter, as the party leaders swot up for their appearances on Question Time this evening.
- At 8.10am, Danny Alexander is on the Today programme to talk about that Guardian story on child benefit cuts.
- Nick Clegg is hosting his regular Call Clegg gig on LBC at 9am.
- Nigel Farage is out and about in Aylesbury.
- Green leader Natalie Bennett – who isn’t appearing on Question Time – is on the Today programme at 7.50am.
But the main action starts this evening, with the BBC hosting three half-hour interviews with the main party leaders. Each will be interviewed by David Dimbleby and the studio audience:
- 8pm David Cameron
- 8.30pm Ed Miliband
- 9pm Nick Clegg
- 10.30pm three further interviews are broadcast separately: Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, Leanne Wood in Wales and Nigel Farage in England.
The big issue
The Question Time interviews will be the final big set-piece event of the campaign. Will they make a difference? Two previous televised debates – only one of which featured Cameron and Clegg – resulted in snap polls that said … pretty much whatever you wanted them to say. But, overall, surveys of voting intentions did not see a huge shift.
After the seven-way debate at the start of the month, the Guardian’s data editor Alberto Nardelli made four key conclusions. Do they still hold? (The fresh observations are mine; Alberto will no doubt have his own.)
- Miliband is pulling up level with Cameron. The two won’t go head-to-head tonight, but the Labour leader will follow the PM in the Question Time schedule. It mirrors the Channel 4 Paxman interviews, in which Miliband was broadly thought to have performed well but was just bested by Cameron in the snap polls. Miliband has been more buoyant as his profile has risen through the campaign – yes, including the Milibrand moment – but expect Cameron to be pumping it big style, and other excruciating phrases.
- Farage is too polarising to help his party improve in the polls. The Ukip leader gets a platform only in England tonight. That might perk him up a bit, after his complaint in the challengers’ debate that the studio audience was “ridiculously to the left” (well, at least it removes those pesky SNP and Plaid Cymru supporters). And Question Time is very familiar territory for him.
- Clegg is becoming irrelevant. The Lib Dem leader goes third, after Cameron and Miliband. We might have to wait for news of a surge in electricity demand at 9pm to see if viewers take this as an opportunity to put the kettle on.
- Sturgeon has broken through to the rest of the UK. Not tonight she won’t: her interview is being screened only north of the border.
- In the Australian (prop. R. Murdoch), foreign editor Greg Sheridan goes off-message – or is it on? So confusing – with a warning for British voters:
The SNP is the most loopy far-left party in modern Britain outside the Greens. Yet it has managed to get the idea across that any criticism of the SNP is an English criticism of Scottishness.
- Writing in the National, Lesley Riddoch warns the SNP against complacency:
It’s not very likely, I’ll grant you, but rock-solid leads have been squandered before by smugness and premature celebrations. For 50-somethings like myself, the memory of Neil Kinnock’s o’er early victory party in 1992 is impossible to erase …
And of course, more recently, there’s the memory of that 51% poll a week before the independence vote.
- Melissa Kite, writing in the Spectator, says a Miliband government would be a disaster for rural Britain:
The problem is, the closest this lot have come to the countryside is Hampstead Heath … The left has no clue about the realities of rural existence and persists with useless ideology. They think they can prevent all creatures suffering, and kick the bejesus out of farmers, while still having meat and milk on the shelves of the trendy organic supermarkets they like to frequent.