Published on 2 Apr 2015

Leaders debate: Ed Miliband ‘hates attacks from the left’

Ed Miliband has been prepping like crazy for these debates.

He puts in quite a few hours before a major interview, like Marr. He puts in hours and hours ahead of PMQs.

These debates have. not surprisingly, put him into full exams mode. One aide said the battle was to get him “in the zone”.

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That, the team feels, they did successfully last time round by having him do a “Q and A” session with the public not long before the Paxman encounter, a session that went well and fired up his confidence. You get the strong impression talking to his team that though his confidence is reasonably strong right now, that is not a constant.

What could destabilise him tonight is responding to attacks from the left – the Greens and the Nationalists with their anti-austerity programmes.

One who has known Ed Miliband for years told me he “hates being attacked from the Left. Hates it. Hates it.”

Nathalie Bennett, who leads the Green Party in England and Wales, has talked up a meeting with the leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru (certainly talked it up a bit more than the Nationalists).

But even without coordination their message is bound to discomfort Ed Miliband and it will be a challenge for him to deal with them in a way that doesn’t upset the more left-leaning potential Labour supporters.

I should say on that note that the number of waverers who actually watch the major TV moments is a moot point. One poll last week singled out waverers for analysis, but was breaking down the opinions of barely 90 people.

What we know from the brief history of debates here and the longer history of debates in the US, is that the instant reaction is often not the same as the reaction that comes a bit later when people have heard or re-heard the debates through the filter of news programme edits and newspaper front pages.

One Labour aide said the (mainly Tory supporting) newspapers have already written their front pages and can be guaranteed to have variations on a theme of “Cameron bounces back.”

David Cameron will be hoping that at some point there is a cacophony down the line to the left of him (he’s out on the far right in the line-up and drew the last straw to get it). He will then hope he can wave his hand down the line and say look at that mob – it’s them or me.

His team is claiming that having last speaking slot will be a great opportunity to give his closing thoughts to the nation.

Some ITV sources have suggested this, the only debate involving the PM, will get 10m viewers – the same as the 2010 debates’ peak. Whatever the numbers reached, it’s hard to imagine that they will be peaking at two hours in.

Leaders don’t know what four topics have been chosen for discussion, but those teams I’ve spoken to think foreign affairs won’t get a look in beyond the compulsory mention of Europe in the question they expect on immigration. The economy, the NHS and welfare could well be the other three.

All the leaders were offered the chance to pace the studio today.

The ITV team decided that rather than varying the sizes of the podiums for different leaders’ heights they would keep them all uniform and just vary the position of the microphones. For those, like Nicola Sturgeon, at the shorter end of the market, the ITV organisers have introduced what they call a “cushion,” which gives some sort of subtly concealed uplift.

This was the sort of debate David Cameron wanted if he had to go through the whole grizzly business at all: have it early so any mess-up loses impact on voters; muddy the waters with smaller parties who might drain off Ed Miliband support and squeeze the more left-leaning supporters out of the Labour leader’s┬ácolumn and into the Greens’ column (or the Nationalists’).

But voters may look down the line of leaders and, instead of seeing chaos, see an appealing extension of choice – a bit more like their everyday choices which aren’t limited to two big products.

Overnight polls will give the an early verdict on whether David Cameron’s cunning plan has paid off.

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