Politics Summary: Friday, April 16th

Nick Clegg emerged victorious from the first prime ministerial tv debate last night, leaving a floundering David Cameron in his wake.

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Nick Clegg emerged the winner from last night’s historic prime ministerial debate on ITV1. All the papers lead on Clegg’s performance, with a series of polls putting the Liberal Democrat leader streets ahead: a Times/Populus poll had Clegg on 61 per cent, with David Cameron on 22 per cent and Gordon Brown on 17 per cent; The Sun/YouGov instant poll put Clegg on 51 per cent, Cameron on 29 per cent and Brown on 19 per cent; and ITV News/ComRes poll had Clegg on 43 per cent, Cameron on 26 per cent and Brown on 20 per cent.

The Telegraph says Clegg “presented himself as the voice od ‘fairness’ and challenged his rivals to be honest with the public”, The Guardian says he made a “powerful pitch” by depicting his party as “a significant change” from the other two and the Standard says the format helped Clegg by allowing him “the same strictly-observed time limits” as the Brown and Cameron. The Mirror, meanwhile, reports how Cameron was “left floundering” during the debate, as the prime minister “repeatedly outsmarted him”. They highlight the exchange – which you can watch on Left Foot Forward – over spending on frontline services, one in which Cameron failed to answer Brown’s questions, the Labour leader telling him: “This is not question time. It’s answer time, David.”

Though no one landed a killer blow or delivered a killer line, there were a few gaffes in last night’s debate, one of the most serious being Cameron’s bracketing of China alongside Iran as a nuclear threat. The Guardian reports the foreign secretary’s anger at Cameron’s remarks, claiming the Tory leader had “insulted a fellow permanent member of the UN security council by at one point in the debate implying that China represented as much of a nuclear threat to the UK as Iran”. As Business Week reports, Cameron had said: “Are we really happy to say that we’d give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran, we can’t be certain of the future in China?” Immediately after, David Miliband said: “To put China and Iran in the same bracket is an insult to a follow permanent member of the UN security council and to a country with whom we have just announced a close strategic relationship … David Cameron should withdraw this slur now.” This prompted the Conservative Party to clarify his remarks: “David Cameron was demonstrating the extent of uncertainties in the world, not saying China is a threat to the UK.”

The main story outside the debates is the continued closure of all UK airspace until at least 01:00 hours tomorrow morning. The Times says the huge ash plume blanketing Europe “may last up to five more days”, with the Mail reporting the disruption “could last up to SIX MONTHS”. The Icelandic volcano is still erupting, with hundreds of thousands of passengers remaining stranded, at a cost to the airline industry of £30million a day, and people with breathing conditions being urged to stay indoors. The Guardian has the latest on the progression of the ash cloud: “The plume, from an eruption on Iceland, has been blown further eastwards leading to clear skies over the Atlantic but it is still affected large areas of the UK and northern Europe.” And the Standard explains why flights have to be grounded: “The microscopic particles which make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into aircraft engines, causing them to shut down.”

Back on the campaign trail, the Telegraph reports the Fawcett Society’s disappointment at all three main parties. It says “female voters have been ignored”, brands their manifestos “regressive, stagnant and contradictory” and believes the policies offered ahead of the election are “depressing” for anyone who cares about gender equality, the few measures mentioning women ranging from “disappointing to downright disturbing”. Chief executive Ceri Goddard said: “After some progress in power Labour seems to have stagnated, some Conservatives policies could actually be a backward step for women’s equality, and the Liberal Democrats are contradictory. The manifestos are a depressing read for anyone concerned about women’s equality, particularly given the energy the Party campaigning machines have invested in targeting women voters on sofas, on the internet and from the pages of the glossies.” The Fawcett Society also brands the Tories’ flagship marriage tax breaks policy “social engineering writ large”, claiming it would “discriminate against widows, single mothers and victims of abusive relationships”.

And The Times reports the launch of the Green Party manifesto yesterday, titled “Fair is worth fighting for”. It proposes higher taxes for the better-off to finance a Green “New Deal” that would keep people in work and invest in the long-term restructuring of Britain’s energy infrastructure. Leader Caroline Lucas, standing in Brighton Pavilion, said: “We believe we are on the edge of breaking through. We are able to capitalise on people wanting an alternative and being able to see that the alternative is electable.” Lucas claimed she was “odds-on favourite” to win the seat, citing an ICM poll – commissioned by the Greens – which put the Greens eight points ahead of the Tories and ten ahead of Labour. Britain is the only leading European country without a single Green MP.

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