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Live Reporting

Gavin Stamp and Alex Stevenson

All times stated are UK

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  1. Recap of day's events

    Midnight approaches, meaning it's time to wrap up today's Politics Live blog. Here's a recap of the day's big political developments:

    • Downing Street has declared David Cameron will only participate in one leaders' debate - and ruled out a head-to-head with Ed Miliband
    • Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP have criticised the prime minister's stance
    • Fresh polling from Lord Ashcroft indicates the SNP are on track for substantial gains in Scotland - including taking Labour's safest seat
    • The SNP's Alex Salmond has reaffirmed his party's interest in a deal with Labour and declared his party is enjoying "massive support" north of the border
    • The debate over immigration has continued after Nigel Farage's speech and Ed Miliband's focus on the issue in PMQs

    The campaign countdown continues tomorrow from 6am GMT - join us then.

  2. TV debates

    And here's the Lib Dem response to Downing Street's letter. A spokesperson says: "The public want these debates to happen and it is not right for one party to dictate their terms to try and gain an advantage. The Tories clearly do not want to discuss and debate the merits of their manifesto with the British public - it's why they don't want them to happen during the campaign - but the Liberal Democrats do. David Cameron and the Conservatives should stop thinking they can hold these debates to ransom."

  3. Ashcroft reflects

    We have been reporting the findings of a series of opinion polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft which make for very interesting reading and which have prompted a lot of political reaction, particularly in Scotland. The Conservative Home website has published a presentation the peer made earlier in which he set out his thoughts on the state of the polls two months ahead of the election.

  4. TV debates

    A UKIP party spokesperson responds to Downing Street's TV debates letter: "After praising what a good thing debates were for democracy as recently as 2014, why is David Cameron now acting chicken and running as far away from them as possible?"

  5. Front pages

    The Daily Telegraph

    Telegraph front page

    Home Secretary Theresa May is being advised that anti-drugs lessons might be counter-productive, the Telegraph reports.

  6. Jill Rutter, Institute for Government


    tweets: debates should not be cosy deals between parties. Rules should be agreed by @ElectoralCommUK and @Ofcom and parties should have to comply

  7. Front pages

    The Guardian

    Guardian front page

    The Guardian highlights BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead's call for a major shake-up of corporate governance at the broadcaster.

  8. 'Running scared'

    BBC News Channel

    Lance Price, a former adviser to Tony Blair, says David Cameron's stance on election debates is "entirely predictable" and suggests that the PM will pay a "heavy political price" for his decision to "run scared". While politicians have ducked out of debates before, he tells the BBC News channel that Mr Cameron is different because he was "so enthusiastic" about debates in 2010 when he was opposition leader. A seven-way debate will not be "very satisfactory", he adds.

  9. Front pages

    The Times

    Times front page

    Tomorrow's Times previews the final Budget of the parliament, which it reports could feature a pre-election giveaway for workers. That, at least, is the fear of senior Labour figures.

  10. Tories 'bullying broadcasters'

    Douglas Alexander

    Labour has responded to David Cameron's TV debates demands with a statement from Douglas Alexander, the party's general election strategy chair. He says Labour continues to support the broadcasters' proposals, before adding: "This is an outrageous attempt from the prime minister to bully the broadcasters into dropping their proposals for a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. That it comes only hours after Ed Miliband called David Cameron's bluff and said he would debate him any time, any place, shows the lengths David Cameron will go to run scared of a debate with‎ Ed Miliband."

  11. Front pages

    The Independent

    Indy front page

    The Independent's front page features a striking story concerning Lord Gus O'Donnell, the former head of the civil service, who attacks the political classes for not being sufficiently rooted in reality.

  12. Paul Waugh, editor


    tweets: UK's never had a Chinese-heritage MP. But now 3 PPCs in May: Alan Mak (Con Havant), Steven Cheung (LD Walthstow), Philip Ling (LD Tooting)

  13. Stephen Tall, Lib Dem blogger


    tweets: Lots of outrage against Cameron kiboshing TV debates. Can't share it. The broadcasters have been stupidly arrogant. Got what they deserved.

  14. 'Not a pleasant place'

    BBC Newsnight

    BBC Two, 22:30

    Anne Begg MP

    Dame Anne Begg, the Scottish Labour MP, is on Newsnight responding to this evening's polls from Lord Ashcroft. "This is not a pleasant place to be," she admits. "I'd much rather we were doing better, but often when our back's against the wall that's when Labour comes out fighting - and we will be fighting in every constituency to hold on to what we've got." Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond told the programme that the SNP would not work with the Tories, but Dame Anne pointed out the nationalists were happy to cooperate with Scottish Conservatives when they governed as a minority. "I think the people of Scotland are a bit cannier than perhaps Alec gives them credit for," she says, before warning: "The person who will be the most smug if the SNP continue to do well will be David Cameron."

  15. A 'progressive' Labour-SNP government?

    BBC Newsnight

    BBC Two, 22:30

    Alex Salmond

    The SNP could never do a deal with the Conservatives, Alex Salmond tells Newsnight, but a Labour-SNP alliance is very plausible. "We think we can do business with the Labour party and use the influence that Scotland has to make sure that progressive politics… can be brought to bear," he says. "Working with our allies in Plaid Cymru we can be a progressive and perhaps decisive force in the next parliament."

  16. Tony Blair donation

    The Guardian

    Tony Blair is donating £1,000 to each of Labour's 106 target marginal seats, the Guardian reports. Writing to the candidates who'll benefit from his donation, the former prime minister says: "I have every confidence that with your drive, determination and organisational skills, you will deliver a successful local campaign that will also see our party returned to government." The cash boost has been welcomed by party HQ, but a spokesperson insisted Labour's campaign "is based on millions of conversations with people on their doorsteps and in their communities".

  17. 'Keep calm'

    BBC Newsnight

    BBC Two, 22:30

    Alex Salnond voting in September's independence referendum

    Alex Salmond has been interviewed on Newsnight after Lord Ashcroft's polls suggested the SNP are set to make big gains in Scotland. "We're trying to keep calm," he says, after declaring the change underway north of the border represents a "new direction for politics" that will result in "the breaking of the Westminster establishment".

  18. Paul Cairney, politics professor at Stirling University


    tweets: New poll suggests that even Wee Jimmy, who just joined the SNP for a laugh, will take a safe Labour seat.

  19. John Prescott, ex-deputy PM


    tweets: Cameron knows Ed Miliband would destroy him in a one-on-one debate. Our PM is nothing but a coward and a chicken #tvdebates

  20. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader


    tweets: @David_Cameron The British public want the debates so let's get on with it. Stop holding them to ransom by trying to dictate the terms.

  21. 'Muddy waters'

    James Landale

    Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale, speaking on the BBC News at Ten, offers some insight into the broadcasters' thoughts behind the scenes. Privately, he says, they think No 10's proposal for a single TV debate is a "pretty meagre offer". He adds: "They also reject the idea this has been a chaotic campaign. Others suggest doubt one political party will be able to dictate terms in this process." This means the prospects of any TV debate are now far from clear: "Water that was pretty muddy has just got even muddier."

  22. TV debates: Broadcasters' response

    The holding statement from the broadcasters in response to Downing Street's TV debates ultimatum confirms that they have received a letter and pledges commitment to "providing our audiences with election debates", before adding: "22 million people watched the debates in 2010 and we believe the debates helped people to engage with the election. The broadcasters have set out their proposals and continue to talk to all the relevant parties on an equitable basis. We will respond to the Conservatives' proposal in due course."

  23. Polls latest

    The Guardian

    Lord Ashcroft predicted a 272-272 dead heat this evening as he released his latest batch of marginal polls. The Guardian has now updated its poll projection by boosting the Tories' advantage by four seats - giving them 276 to Labour's 271. The SNP are forecast to get 52, with the Lib Dems on 25, others on 21 and UKIP on four. If that was the result, it would mean another two-party coalition would seem improbable:

    • Labour and the SNP would not have enough MPs between them for a clear majority
    • Labour and the Lib Dems would be even further away from a workable coalition
    • The current coalition couldn't form a stable government either
    • The only plausible scenario for a comfortable majority involves combining Labour's MPs with those of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats
  24. Ivan Lewis, shadow Cabinet member

    tweets: By denying voters the chance to compare +contrast the two men who want to lead our country, Cameron is displaying breathtaking arrogance.

  25. No 10 debate proposal

    David Cameron leaves for PMQs earlier

    Here's a bit more on Downing Street's proposal for a single 90-minute debate:

    • The seven leaders of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, UKIP, Plaid and SNP parties should be invited, with the DUP leader permitted to argue his case for inclusion
    • Lots should be drawn between the broadcasters as to which channel hosts the debate
    • The debate should take place in the week beginning 23 March
  26. Former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom


    tweets: I sometimes think UKIP policy depends on who Nigel Farage met in the pub the night before.

  27. Fraser Nelson, Spectator editor


    tweets: SNP surge helps Cameron but at what cost? I'd rather live a lifetime under Labour than a day in a fractured, diminished, disunited Kingdom.

  28. Cameron letter to broadcasters

    The Daily Telegraph

    According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron has reportedly made a "final offer" to the broadcasters in a letter to Sue Inglish, chair of the broadcasters' leaders' debates committee, from his director of communications Craig Oliver.

    It reportedly reads: "Despite the prime minister having been clear about his concern around holding debates in the short campaign, you did not consult us before issuing a press release last October outlining your plans for three debates during that period. Had you consulted us, we could have also told you that we also did not think it was appropriate to exclude the Green Party from the process.

    "Despite all of this, we then entered into negotiations in good faith, during which I made the case for a more representative debates structure, including the Greens. It is fair to say that the desire to exclude the Greens was clear from all other parties present.

    "Three months later - and again without consultation - you surprised us again by proposing a new seven-party structure, this time not only inviting the Greens, but Plaid Cymru and the SNP as well. Again, this was a flawed proposal - that has resulted in the DUP initiating what appears to be legitimate legal action.

    "Since this proposal has been suggested, there has been chaos. In recent weeks, you have avoided letting the parties sit in a room to hammer out proposals, making progress impossible."

    "This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the prime minister will not be participating in more than one debate."

  29. BreakingBreaking News

    The Daily Telegraph

    The Daily Telegraph is reporting that David Cameron has ruled out taking part in a head-to-head election debate with Ed Miliband and has "sent an ultimatum" to broadcasters that he will only take part in a single debate between seven leaders provided it is staged before 30 March, more than a month before the general election on 7 May.

  30. Scottish polls

    This is BBC Scotland correspondent James Cook's take on the Ashcroft polling we have been discussing this evening.

  31. UKIP 'in retreat'

    The Daily Telegraph

    Nigel Farage

    Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dan Hodges suggests UKIP have "fatally overplayed their hand" when it comes to immigration and are now "in retreat". "The inflammatory language is gone. The posters of burning Union Jacks and forlorn British brickies are gone. The 50,000 net annual immigration target is gone," he writes. In its place, he suggests, are a range of measures which amount to "your typical managed migration boilerplate".

  32. Immigration debate continues

    BBC News Channel

    Alp Mehmet

    Alp Mehmet, a vice-chair of the immigration pressure group Migrationwatch, has been on the BBC News channel after a day of debate about the issue. His view is that more control is needed on new arrivals: "A lot of them are skilled, a lot of them are not skilled, some of them are frankly looking for a better life," he says. "That's what we need to control." Mr Mehmet was an immigration officer in the 1970s when, he says, the government's approach was more effective. "There's a great deal that we've abandoned that we could revert to," Mr Mehmet claims. "One is interviewing people - looking people in the eye and confirming what they're saying is true, that if they are coming here for a short stay that is indeed what they intend to do. At the moment there is less control on that than there should be."

  33. Wayne David, Labour MP


    tweets: It is truly pathetic to see Cameron twisting and turning to try to get out of TV debates with @Ed_Miliband . Is it because he is #chicken ?

  34. '2010 fluke'

    Sky News

    Image of 2010 election debate

    Independent journalist John Rentoul tells Sky News it was a "complete fluke" that election debates took place at all in 2010 as it just happened to suit all of the three main party leaders. With UKIP, the Greens and the SNP to be factored in this time, things are much more complicated and, in his opinion, the debates won't happen. The public will be short-changed but "that's life", he suggests.

  35. Murphy: 'Bad news'

    Jim Murphy

    Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has offered his take on Lord Ashcroft's polling presentation, which suggests that the SNP could win 56 of Scotland's 59 seats. He said: "This is bad news for Scottish Labour but great news for the Tories. David Cameron will be rubbing his hands with glee when he sees these polls, because any seat the SNP take from Scottish Labour makes it more likely the Tories will be the largest party across the UK."

  36. Conservative Press Office


    tweets: UKIP left in the dark on @Nigel_Farage's immigration policies - just making it up as he goes along

  37. Election dead heat?

    Perhaps the most striking conclusion from Lord Ashcroft's polls out this evening is the prediction he's making about what all these numbers mean for the national picture. "As things stand, Labour losses in Scotland could offset their gains from the Tories, leading to something close to a dead heat," the Tory peer says. His forecast is that Labour and the Tories could both end up with 272 seats in the Commons. "This, then, is the battle: can the Conservatives fight back against Labour faster than Labour can fight back against the SNP? It is just as well I never bet on politics."

  38. Angus Robertson, SNP Westminster leader


    tweets: Huge honour to wish Westminster @Plaid_Cymru leader Elfyn Llwyd a great retirement at St David's Day reception

    Elfyn Llwyd and Angus Robertson
  39. Ashcroft's Scottish outlook

    Scottish poll data

    Here's the table showing the results of Lord Ashcroft's polling, released this evening, in eight Scottish marginal seats. Some of the more eye-watering statistics worth highlighting are:

    • In Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Gordon Brown's constituency, the SNP are registering a swing of 28.5% that puts them on track to take the seat
    • The SNP lead by 5% in former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber
    • It's a dead heat right now in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale - the only Conservative-held seat in Scotland
    • Labour has an advantage of just 1% in East Renfrewshire, where the party's Scottish leader Jim Murphy faces a 20.5% swing by the SNP
  40. London holidays

    House of Lords


    Houses in the Belgravia area of London

    In the Lords ministers have seen off an attempt by peers to clamp down on short-term holiday let arrangements in London. Right now "Airbnb-style" arrangements are technically illegal in the capital, so the government is tweaking the law to allow Londoners to let out their homes for up to 90 days a year. But peers had suggested the limit should be 60 days - and that the council should be notified every time a let took place. Their amendment was defeated with a government majority of 37.

  41. Clegg office update

    Occupy Clegg protest

    We've learned some more about the precise state which Nick Clegg's constituency office, which was briefly occupied by student protestors earlier, was turned into. The group has stated: "We transformed the space, symbolic of betrayal and the politics of the neoliberal establishment, into an autonomous, collectively-run learning space: The Free University of Sheffield." This unusual higher education venture didn't last long as police officers succeeded in moving the demonstrators from the Sheffield Hallam office into the adjacent car park. "We are trying to project an image of what we think education should look like by subverting an oppressive neoliberal space into an accessible, free and non-hierarchical one," activist Alison Kwan said.

  42. Ashcroft polls

    Ashcroft polls

    Lord Ashcroft has polled 12 marginals in total, four of which are potentially vulnerable Conservative seats. His snapshot suggests Labour could take two of them - but suggests there is all to play for in three of them.

    • Colne Valley, a three-way marginal in 2010 won by Jason McCartney, is under threat
    • High Peak, Andrew Bingham's seat, has an identical swing of 5% to Labour - but as the Tory majority is under 5,000 Lord Ashcroft puts Ed Miliband's party ahead
    • Norwich North, won by Chloe Smith in a 2009 by-election, is set to return to the Labour fold. UKIP is polling especially strongly here, registering 16%
    • The Vale of Glamorgan is currently held by Alun Cairns - and he's enjoying a 6% swing in his favour
  43. Whose socks?

    Picture of Nigel Farage giving a speech earlier
    Image caption: Which leading politician was seen earlier sporting a pair of socks with these striking images on them?...The answer is Nigel Farage. We are fairly certain he was showing his support for sterling although perhaps he was also making a statement on UKIP's diversity by referencing the other "pink pound".
  44. Three-person babies

    Jane Ellison MP

    Last month parliament approved new laws to allow the creation of babies from three people - the first legislation of this kind anywhere in the world. As a result mitochondrial donations could take place as early as the end of this year. Today saw what the Department of Health said was an "historic moment" as health minister Jane Ellison, above, signed the regulations.

  45. Detention centres

    Channel 4

    Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, has demanded that the Home Office steps in to insist that "the culture must change" at Britain's detention centres. It follows a Channel 4 News investigation which has revealed guards showing contempt for detainees. Mr Vaz says he will seek to summon the chief executives of the private companies running centres like Yarl's Wood to give evidence in parliament if significant changes are not made. "We cannot wait for the outsourcing companies to do this," Mr Vaz told Channel 4 News. "This is a government responsibility."

  46. UKIP on immigration

    Channel 4

    UKIP's immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe, interviewed on Channel 4 News, has denied his party has U-turned after leader Nigel Farage used his speech earlier to confirm the party will no longer seek an overall cap of 50,000 on net migration previously outlined by Mr Woolfe. "We haven't abandoned it. What we're looking at here is not a cap on migration," he says. "The important point is are we going to reduce the number of migrants to this country? The answer to that is yes."

  47. Broadcasters' 'naive' on debates

    Sky News

    2010 election debate

    Labour's Ben Bradshaw says the broadcasters' have been "naive about the Conservatives' intentions" when it comes to the election debates, telling Sky News that they should "stick to their guns" and "empty chair" the PM if necessary, replacing him with a "teddy bear". But Tory MP Peter Bone says the broadcasters have made a "mess" of negotiations and insists it is wrong to suggest that Mr Cameron wants to swerve the whole thing. However, he says a debate on 30 April would be unsatisfactory as large numbers of people will have already voted by post by then.

  48. Chris Addison, comedian


    tweets: Would it be more appealing if we told the leaders the debate would be moderated by Mrs Merton?

  49. Commons wraps up business

    House of Commons


    Mark Reckless

    In the Commons, UKIP MP Douglas Carswell (seated above) is holding an adjournment debate about competition in the financial services industry to complete the day's proceedings. His fellow defector, Mark Reckless, has been chipping in too - after being rebuked by the Speaker for a minor breach of parliamentary convention.

  50. Mark Ferguson, LabourList editor


    tweets: Latest Ashcroft polling in Scotland is shocking. When the only ray of light is that your leader might keep his seat, be concerned.

  51. Expenses row

    Bob Blackman MP

    Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who is defending a 3,403 majority in his Harrow East constituency, is defying the expenses watchdog after being told he must repay £1,006.20 of overclaimed mileage. Mr Blackman faces a £1,000 fine if he doesn't pay up by next week, but is insisting he has been the victim of "arbitrary and draconian" treatment. He's only prepared to pay £237.

  52. Ashcroft polling in Scotland

    Here's the highlights of Lord Ashcroft's findings from Scotland:

    • Of Scotland's 59 seats, as many as 56 could be taken by the SNP
    • Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy is set to lose his seat in Ross, Skye and Lochaber
    • The Conservatives' sole seat in Scotland is very, very close to being taken by the SNP
    • Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is on track to hold his seat
    • The SNP has a 6% lead in the seat being vacated by Gordon Brown in Kirkcaldy
  53. Robin Brant, Political Correspondent


    tweets: .@LordAshcroft has polled in 4 @Conservatives (over lab) marginals, says too close to call in three of four

  54. Ashcroft polling

    Lord Ashcroft is briefing journalists on his latest polling findings at an event in London and details are seeping out over Twitter. Here's a few of the stats lobby colleagues have found particularly illuminating:

    • 40% are not feeling the effects of the economic recovery
    • 58% don't want any more austerity, compared to 42% who say we need more
    • UKIP is the most popular party when it comes to immigration, on 31% to 22% for both Labour and the Conservatives
  55. Labour defeated on austerity

    House of Commons


    The Commons, which has spent the afternoon debating a Labour motion describing the government's deficit reduction strategy as a "failing austerity plan", has made up its mind in a vote. The motion's been defeated by 298 votes to 216, a government majority of 82.

  56. Stephen Bush, Staggers editor


    tweets: I wonder: does the Conservative message that the worst has passed actually make it easier for people to give it over to "nice-but-wet" Ed?

  57. 'Scary guy' Putin

    Alastair Campbell quote

    Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has been talking on BBC Radio 5 Live about foreign affairs this afternoon. He says he thought Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, was a "scary guy" after first meeting him before he became president. "When Tony first invited him to Downing Street Putin hadn't won. He was an interesting sort of guy, very clever." Now, he says, "it's too simple to say he's a bad man" because he feels Ukraine "was a put-up job". In comments that add significance to David Cameron's August 2013 defeat on military action in Syria, Mr Campbell adds: "I think the moment at which he felt emboldened was Syria - that was the moment when he felt 'these guys aren't strong'." You can listen to the clip in full here.

  58. Miliband debate latest

    Ed Miliband

    Here's more from Ed Miliband on leaders' debates and his challenge to David Cameron: "I want these debates to happen. I want the seven-way debates to happen, I want the two-way debates to happen. And I think the British public need them to happen and frankly David Cameron has first of all made these excuses about the Greens, then the Greens were invited. Then he talked about Northern Ireland and now he's saying he doesn't like the timing of the debates. I'm saying to David Cameron it's time to stand up and be counted because the British public deserves these debates to happen. I want them to happen and frankly he should stop making excuses and wriggling.

    "If he thinks they are an essential part of our democracy, it's time he stopped wriggling, it's time he stopped running scared and he actually said these debates are going to happen and he's going to take part.

    "Yes I'll do it earlier than planned because David Cameron has made another excuse today saying he doesn't like the date. Well if he doesn't like the debate, then let's move the date and let's make the debates happen."

  59. Ed Miliband, Labour leader


    tweets: David Cameron said he would do the live TV debate with me if it happens earlier than planned. I will do it anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

  60. Clegg double-take

    Nick Clegg (centre) ahead of a discussion on drugs policy
    Image caption: Nick Clegg tweeted this picture of himself and Richard Branson ahead of their joint appearance at a debate on drugs in central London. No - you are not imagining things, there is only one deputy prime minister in the picture although the other participant in their discussion is wearing a strikingly similar shirt to the Lib Dem leader.
  61. Punch and Judy politics

    David Ward

    David Ward, who pressed David Cameron about the rowdiness of PMQs during the session, has elaborating his views on the state of the Commons' flagship event. The Liberal Democrat MP doesn't hold back. "Most people in the real world, outside of the Westminster bubble, think that prime minister's questions is pathetic and is the manifestation of all the things which are wrong with politics at the moment," he says. "People in Bradford see politicians evading simple and often important questions, being loud, boisterous and frankly just looking like a bunch of out of control public school children. No wonder people get apathetic about voting when they see how this lot carry on in the weekly 'Punch and Judy' show."

  62. Field: Don't 'throw in the towel'

    BBC News Channel

    Passport controls at Heathrow

    Returning to the immigration debate, Labour's Frank Field says a target on net migration is essential to "give direction" to policy, suggesting that to ditch it would be to "throw in the towel". "When you fail, you try next time to fail less spectacularly. That is how progress is made," the MP - who backs temporary curbs on freedom of movement within the EU - tells the BBC News channel. But economist Jonathan Portes disagrees, saying the Conservatives' current target has been a "miserable failure" and any numerical target is counter-productive.

  63. PMQs verdict

    The Spectator

    This lunchtime's exchanges disappointed Isabel Hardman at the Spectator, who wasn't impressed by rowdy MPs' heckling clashing with sensitive questions. "They were getting carried away to the extent that when a serious question did come up, many MPs were rolling so fast down a hill of heckling and laughing that they couldn't stop themselves when they needed to," she writes. Laughter over Labour MP Barry Gardiner's opening sentence of his question - "my father died of cancer" - was especially shameful, she says.

  64. Mexican visit

    Labour leader Ed Miliband (left) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at Buckingham Palace.
    Image caption: Earlier we showed you a picture of David Cameron meeting the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at Downing Street. Well, Ed Miliband has also met the Mexican leader, who is on a state visit to the UK. But the venue for their encounter was different - the two held talks at Buckingham Palace
  65. Eurostar sell-off

    BBC Radio 4


    Earlier today the Treasury announced it is selling taxpayers' 40% stake in Eurostar for £757.1m. The decision is a "disaster", Kat Hobbs, founder of the We Own It pressure group, has told BBC Radio 4's PM programme. "What we had was a public asset that could be run for the benefit of all of us, and George Osborne has sold it off - it's an ideological decision," she says. Dr Eamonn Butler, from the Adam Smith Institute, disagrees. "It's a good deal for the taxpayer, actually," he says, highlighting the fact that three-quarters of a billion pounds will help pay down the national debt. "It means there is more money in taxpayers' pockets."

  66. Reckless on immigration policy

    BBC News Channel

    UKIP MP Mark Reckless has been defending the party's immigration policy on the BBC News Channel. He declines to mention the word cap but says that between 20,000 and 50,000 applications for work visas were likely to be approved every year under the system his party is proposing. He acknowledges that total migration numbers could exceed 50,000 a year because of dependents and others coming into the UK but insists overall levels would be "significantly reduced" by applying the same restrictions to EU nationals as to non-EU migrants through an Australian-style points system.

  67. Matthew Harris, LBC executive producer


    tweets: EXCL: Colonel Bob Stewart MP has told @IainDale on LBC that he has seriously considered resigning as an MP over defence cuts.

  68. 'Worst ever' PMQs

    Paul Flynn

    Labour veteran Paul Flynn has seen one or two PMQs in his time, and it's his view that today's exchanges were the "worst ever". He called for the "demeaning spectacle" to be abolished if it could not be improved - you can read BBC Wales' story on his comments for more.

  69. Defence spending

    House of Lords


    Lord West

    Peers have been debating defence spending this afternoon. Former Labour defence minister and former First Sea Lord Lord West has called for the Conservatives and Labour to make a joint pre-election pledge to maintain spending at 2% of GDP. Lord West said spending, as a percentage of national output, was at a 25-year low and ministers were "horrifyingly complacent" about the resources needed to deal with the threats facing the UK.

  70. Spending debate

    House of Commons


    In the Commons the opposition day debate on future government spending has seen Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, claim that stagnant wages, falling tax receipts and rising welfare costs have had a "devastatingly corrosive effect" on the health of the country's public finances. "The majority of people are not feeling the benefit of the recovery and the squeeze on living standards has never been so prolonged since the 1920s," he said. Treasury minister David Gauke insisted public spending is only "returning to the levels of 2002-03, before the previous government lost control of public spending". Mr Gauke also criticised Labour for opposing the government's policies to unwind the deficit. He said it is "down by half as a percentage of GDP, thanks to the stability we have put in place".

  71. PMQs verdict

    New Statesman

    Prime Minister's Questions

    George Eaton at the New Statesman has given his verdict on today's PMQs. He says Ed Miliband had the better arguments, but the leader of the opposition's questions didn't stop David Cameron losing his cool. "Cameron simply blustered through it at all," he writes. "Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable."

  72. Downing Street on drugs

    Throughout the day, we've been reporting Nick Clegg's call for changes to the UK's drugs policy following his joint appearance with Sir Richard Branson. Now Downing Street has rejected any shift in approach. "The prime minister and Nick Clegg, as you well know, take a different view on this," a Downing Street spokesman says. "The prime minister thinks we have got the right approach and you see that in the fact that drug use is falling."

  73. Debate discussions

    No 10 has responded to Channel 4 and Sky News' offer to reschedule their planned TV election debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. A Downing Street spokesman says: "We have heard lots of different things from different broadcasters for quite some time now. It is one for the political parties, but my understanding is that discussions are continuing."

  74. Shaking up PMQs

    Jack Straw

    Jack Straw, the former leader of the House of Commons, is speaking out to MPs on the procedure committee about prime minister's questions. "It's become less productive and more vulgar as the years have gone by," he says. Mr Straw thinks this is partly because PMQs now takes place in one half-hour chunk on Wednesday lunchtimes. Before 1997 it took place in two 15-minute sessions on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. What frustrates Mr Straw is that it's the whips who decide this format, not backbenchers, a fact he says is "completely unacceptable". His comments follow yesterday's launch by Labour of its political reform agenda, which didn't call for a return to the pre-1997 schedule.

  75. Immigration punishment

    Peter Kellner

    "When parties are seeking votes what matters is the plausibility, the credibility of what they say," YouGov president Peter Kellner says on the BBC News channel. "If you have one party saying we'll stop immigration, and another party saying we will control it better… voters will go for the more credible promise." He thinks Nigel Farage is being "quite smart because he's not promising the moon, he's promising something that is perhaps deliverable". The Tories, by contrast, will be "punished" for having failed to meet their 2010 manifesto commitment of cutting net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. But only those "for whom immigration matters to them personally" will turn their backs on David Cameron, Mr Kellner adds.

  76. Steel 'driven mad' by e-mails

    Lord Steel

    Let's put aside thoughts about election debates and policy wrangles for one moment and reflect on the issue of e-mail etiquette. Former Liberal leader Lord Steel is concerned about the subject and has written a letter to The Oldie magazine. "Am I the only person driven mad by receiving emails from all and sundry beginning 'I hope you are well?' he writes. "When did this start and when will it end?"

  77. Lib Dems vs Greens

    Ed Davey

    Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has gone on the offensive against the Greens in an interview with sustainable living publication BusinessGreen. "They are very against the single market in Europe, which is disastrous for the environment," he said. "They want to nationalise everything - I think they'd undermine green business quicker than any party imaginable. They want to nationalise whole swathes of Britain's energy system." Green MEP Molly Scott Cato responded by saying Mr Davey's attacks showed "just how desperate" the Lib Dems have become.

  78. Handover time

    Stepping aside with dignity is something all the party leaders may have to get familiar with if the results don't go their way on 7 May. It's something our early bloggers, Matthew West and Victoria King, are able to do with the same combination of grace and panache that's typified their copy all day. They're relinquished their keyboards as it's time for Gavin Stamp and Alex Stevenson to take over and keep you updated until midnight.

  79. Mexican talks in No 10

    David Cameron (right) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

    David Cameron has been holding talks with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in 10 Downing Street. The two countries' respective foreign ministers have also signed a declaration on closer co-operation.

  80. Commons action

    House of Commons


    In the Commons chamber, MPs have agreed legislation devolving the power to set Corporation Tax to the Northern Ireland government. The Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill will now go before the House of Lords for further scrutiny. A debate on future government spending called by Labour is now underway. Chris Leslie is leading for the opposition while Treasury minister David Gauke is representing the government in the early stages.

  81. More on TV debates

    Broadcasters have offered to change the date of a planned election debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband if the leaders agree. You can read our full story here.

  82. Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent


    tweets: if you watched them all back to back, starting now, non stop, you'd still be watching on Saturday morning.

  83. Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent


    tweets: A little #PMQs factoid @edgingtont dredged out for #Wato @bbcradio4: today was the 130th encounter between Messrs Cameron&Miliband...

  84. 'Completely pointless'

    House of Commons


    James Gray MP

    James Gray, a Conservative member of the procedure committee, launches a scathing attack on Thursday's debates held by the backbench business committee, which he says are "about as important as the Oxford Union - they're completely pointless". Mr Gray says the government has covertly accrued power in parliament while MPs work hard in their constituencies. "The executive go their merry way and occasionally say to select committee chairmen 'aren't you important', when in fact they're not," he adds. Sir George Young, who was leader of the House in the first years of this parliament, replies: "You do a serious disservice to the backbench business committee."

  85. Ann Treneman, Times sketch writer


    tweets: I have just spent some time in a basement with Sir Richard Branson and Nick Clegg. Surely this is beyond the call of duty

  86. Debate statement

    Leaders' election debate from 2010

    Channel 4 has issued a statement about its proposed head-to-head debate between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, the subject of a row at PMQs earlier. It reads: "Sky News and Channel 4 are continuing to prepare for a head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on 30 April. However, in response to media inquiries following today's PMQs, we would obviously be willing to host a debate on a different day the two main party leaders could agree on."

  87. Excuses, excuses

    House of Commons


    Thomas Docherty

    The Commons' procedure committee is questioning former leaders of the House, including Jack Straw - you can watch live coverage by clicking on the 'live coverage' tab at the top of this page. Labour MP Thomas Docherty apologises to the chair for being late but his excuse gets a decent laugh: "My plane was diverted to Stansted because its brakes weren't working, which I always think is something they ought to try before they take off."

  88. Clegg "invasion" update

    Sheffield Hallam protest

    Here's an update on the situation in Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg's constituency office was briefly occupied by student protesters earlier. The arrival of the police swiftly brought proceedings to a close, the Sheffield Star reports. Sociology student Alison Kwan told the paper: "We were intimidated out of the office by the police so we went to the car park to have a seminar." This isn't the first time the deputy prime minister has had trouble with students, either, as our story from November 2010 shows.

  89. Blue Labour returns

    Blue Labour books

    Blue Labour, the movement co-founded by MP Jon Cruddas and peer Maurice Glasman, is the subject of a new collection of essays being published this week. Today's launch at the University of Kent launch is taking place as supporters try to argue that small-c conservatism might just be the way forward for Ed Miliband's party. It's not for the faint-hearted though, as this example indicates: "Critiquing the dominance in Britain of a social-cultural liberalism linked to the left and a free-market liberalism associated with the right, Blue Labour blends a 'progressive' commitment to greater economic equality with a more 'conservative' disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality." Might be a bit late for the manifesto, perhaps.

  90. Labour on immigration

    Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has responded to Nigel Farage's immigration speech this morning. "The Tories and UKIP have got themselves in a ridiculous tangle on their immigration promises," she says. "The Tories' net migration target is in tatters and they are arguing over whether to keep it. Now it seems UKIP are just as chaotic and confused." Ms Cooper's team privately admits Labour has had to work hard to address concerns about immigration in seats, particularly in the north of England, where it faces a threat from UKIP. But they insist Labour is making progress in engaging with concerned voters. Ms Cooper adds: "Nigel Farage's slippery approach is just designed to exploit concerns about immigration and increase division rather than ever setting out practical policies to control and manage immigration in a sensible way to make the system fair."

  91. Straw before MPs

    Jack Straw

    They have more than 75 years combined parliamentary experience between them so Sir George Young and Jack Straw should know everything there is to know about Commons procedure. The veteran Conservative and Labour MPs' knowledge will be put to the test when the two men - who are both former leaders of the Commons - appear before the Commons procedure committee in a session starting about 15:00. The session should have an added edge to it given Mr Straw's recent suspension from the Labour Party over "cash for access" allegations - which are now being investigated by the parliamentary watchdog.

  92. Paul Waugh, editor of Politicshome

    tweets: TweetOfTheDay RT @Kevin_Maguire: Geriatric John: RT @BuzzFeedUKPol Shocking news about Sir Menzies Campbell

    Menzies Campbell
  93. Defence budget warning

    RAF Tornado GR4 in Afghanistan in November 2014

    The UK's defence chiefs should be prepared to resign en masse if the next government tries to impose any further cuts on the armed forces, a former head of the RAF has warned.

    Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon said the current service chiefs could face a "very, very difficult decision" if they are confronted with the prospect of further cutbacks after the general election in May.

    He was speaking at a meeting of the UK National Defence Association (UNDA) campaign group, at which he also warned military chiefs could not carry on pretending they had the resources they needed.

  94. Immigration vs everything else

    Issues index

    Nigel Farage's speech on immigration, one of UKIP's biggest campaigning issues, and Ed Miliband's attack on David Cameron over the issue in PMQs have got pundits asking how important the debate about net migration actually is to the election campaign. Yesterday's updated "issues index" from polling firm Ipsos Mori suggests it is an important issue for voters but not the most important.

  95. Tory MP faces expenses payback

    Bob Blackman MP

    Conservative backbencher Bob Blackman faces repaying more than £1,000 after losing an appeal against an inquiry that found he claimed mileage expenses for up to five times the real distance. An investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) watchdog found last month that the Harrow East MP made more than 700 claims for travel around his constituency that were either "inaccurate" or not allowed under the rules. Mr Blackman refused to accept the findings, insisting he would hand back£237 for journeys to party political engagements and from his home to his office. Ipsa has said today it is standing by its original ruling.

  96. Online voting

    Mobile phone

    Online voting could boost youth voter turnout from 44% in 2010 to as high as 70%, a report out today claims. The idea is being pushed by parliamentarians after the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy voiced its support for pilots in time for a 2020 rollout. Industry figures have suggested this is unlikely, but that isn't stopping WebRoots Democracy from making the case for online voting. "The UK is a politically active nation online, and we need to translate this passion to voting: the bedrock of our democracy," founder Areeq Chowdhury says. "Analogue methods of politics will increasingly become incompatible with the digital world of today."

  97. Green team

    Back to Mumsnet, where Natalie Bennett is asked who's actually in charge of the Green Party. Is it true, she's asked, that she could share responsibility for the TV election debates - if they happen - with Caroline Lucas, her predecessor and the party's only MP?

    Ms Bennett answers thus: "The Green Party leadership is a team - that's something we've always made clear, and one of the things that is different about the Green Party. So we - and I - are perfectly comfortable with different people representing us in different forums, indeed we like to be able to share opportunities around.

    "That helps make it clear that unlike another party I think you could identify, we're not a one-man band!

    "Sometimes you might see me on the TV, sometimes Jenny Jones as our member of the House of Lords, sometimes Caroline, and sometimes one of our brilliant Young Green candidates."

  98. Trident debate

    Trident submarine

    David Cameron was quick to turn Tory backbencher Liam Fox's question about Trident on Labour, amid fears from some that the SNP could insist on moving Britain's nuclear deterrent away from Scotland in coalition talks. "People don't want to see a grubby deal between the people who want to break up Britain and the people who want to bankrupt Britain," the prime minister said. The issue was highlighted by CND canvassing results published yesterday which suggested that three-quarters of Labour's parliamentary candidates would vote against Trident replacement.

  99. Stefan Stern, columnist


    tweets: @IanDunt Yes, but Dave is still on the hook because of all those quotes he gave last time about how marvellous and essential they are.

  100. Ian Dunt, editor of


    tweets: If Brown held out against TV debates, the media reaction would have been much more severe than it has been against Cameron.

  101. Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent


    tweets: understand the migration policy fully unveiled by #ukip today has been the product of 7 months work

  102. Public opinion on drugs

    Nick Clegg and Richard Branson

    Nick Clegg says the public's opinion on the idea of drugs reform is "more subtle and smarter" than the media believe.

  103. Alex Stevens, professor in Criminal Justice at the University of Kent


    tweets: I asked Clegg what UK decrim' would look like. A. We can work that out, and it would be cheaper than current system #CHEvents

  104. PMQs

    Andy Crockett., Politics Live reader

    Wouldn't it be nice and a refreshing change if at PMQ's, the prime minister actually answered a question put to him? No invented question, no refusing to answer, no head in the sand, no evasion, just answer the question asked.

  105. John Rentoul, columnist at the Independent on Sunday


    tweets: David Cameron embarrassed himself by refusing even to pretend to answer either of EdM's questions #PMQs

  106. PMQs

    Eddie Jonas, Politics Live reader

    Don't you love the way carefully chosen and worded statistics are used by the PM? "Police funding has been reduced however the PERCENTAGE of front line staff has gone up!"

  107. Green party leader on Mumsnet

    Natalie Bennett continues her redemption after last week's slew of criticism by appearing on a Mumsnet online Q&A session. So far, we've learned that the Greens would support the Labour Party on a confidence and supply basis in the event of a hung parliament, that they'd never form a coalition with the Tories, and that Ms Bennett's favourite biscuits are macaroons.

  108. Matthew Holehouse, political correspondent, Daily Telegraph


    tweets: Nick Clegg says many Tory MPs back him on drug reform, but we will have to find them ourselves

  109. Immigration

    BBC Radio 4

    Is it time for the Conservatives to have a rethink on immigration? Eric Pickles says not. He tells The World at One it's a good thing to have a target of tens of thousands and there's no suggestion the Conservative Party is pulling back from its promise. Would he like to see it as a manifesto pledge this time around? The communities secretary says he's sure that "a number of policies" will be in the manifesto.

  110. 'Reform not a taboo'

    Nick Clegg is pretty clear who he blames for inaction on the issue of drugs. "I'm incredibly frustrated that, after five years in coalition, we cannot take our work to its logical conclusion - just because the Tories are scared of being branded soft on drugs," he says. "It's time for the Conservatives and Labour to realise that the world has moved on, reform is no longer a taboo subject and voters expect politicians to deliver results based on solid evidence, not overblown rhetoric."

  111. World at One


    tweets:@EricPickles: "This country was virtually bust when the coalition came in" #wato

  112. Chatham House Events


    tweets: UK is way behind the curve - Portugal, Switzerland, US have all shown there is a better way to deal with #DrugPolicy - @DPMoffice #CHEvents

  113. Living standards

    BBC Radio 4

    Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint says for the first time we will be going into a general election with most people receiving a lower wage than at the last election.

    Lib Dem Employment Minister Jo Swinson says there is also a skills gap, which the government is trying to plug. Only 7% of engineers are women, for example, she says, and that is something they're trying to fix.

    Meanwhile, Conservative Communities Secretary Eric Pickles tells the World at One that living standards for those of working age will move past their 2010 peak at the end of this year... but only if we "stick to our long-term economic plan".

  114. Transform Drug Policy Foundation


    tweets: Richard Branson mentioned drug decriminalisation in Portugal. Find out more here

  115. Deputy PM, Nick Clegg


    tweets: Nick Clegg: The time for change has come; we need to implement evidence-based #DrugPolicy that works @RichardBranson

    Nick Clegg and Richard Branson at drugs event
  116. Lending woes

    BBC Radio 4

    Steve Brittan, chief executive of company BSA Machine Tools, says it's all well and good telling businesses they need to invest, but without banks willing to lend them money to do so it's impossible for them to compete against their rivals, let alone expand their businesses.

  117. All in it together

    BBC Radio 4

    "It's not just for government to solve this problem however," Mr Beatson says. There are things that only government can do, invest in infrastructure, for example and regulating industry. But it's also about businesses making investment. Productivity isn't about how hard you work it's about the return you get on your investment, he adds

  118. Productivity worries

    BBC Radio 4

    The IFS report on living standards remains one of the big stories of the day. On The World at One, Mark Beatson, chief economist at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), says lower productivity has been a nagging concern since 1998, but we're now in an unprecedented world where productivity is lower than it was in 2008 despite the economic recovery.

  119. Clegg drugs speech

    Nick Clegg is now giving his speech on drugs that we've been trailing this morning. "If you are anti-drugs you should be pro-reform," he tells the audience in London.

  120. IFS report

    James Landale

    Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    The Conservatives' great fear in this election is that they will experience a voteless recovery - all the stats say it's getting better but people don't feel that on the ground - and wont show it at the ballot box. They hope the IFS report will help convince the public that things really are improving.

  121. Lunchtime recap:

    • Ed Miliband attacks David Cameron over his record on immigration at PMQs - the latter lists his other achievements in office, but admits that immigration from within the EU has risen.
    • The Labour leader also asks the PM to say if he will take part in a head-to-head TV election debate. Mr Cameron says "we're having a debate now" and in terms of the TV events, he wants to "get on with the debates before the election campaign"
    • Nigel Farage has given a big speech outlining his desire to return immigration to "normal" levels, with between 20,000 and 50,000 migrants given work permits each year.
    • But the UKIP leader has spent much of the morning insisting he hasn't performed a U-turn on the issue of whether he's setting a formal immigration cap. His spokesman Steven Woolfe said last week he wanted a cap of 50,000, but Mr Farage says he - and the public - have "had enough of caps and targets".
    • Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell has paid £80,000 in damages to Pc Toby Rowland, the office at the centre of the plebgate row
    • The Liberal Democrats' manifesto will include a pledge to hand drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health, Nick Clegg is to say.
  122. Migration target

    Daily Politics

    Live on BBC Two

    Labour's Hilary Benn says it was unwise of the prime minister to make the promise on net migration, and criticises Ms Perry for trying to "blame everyone else". Asked what Labour's plan is, he says the party would have a "fair" immigration policy that requires migrants to the UK to contribute. "That's what we're doing," Ms Perry intervenes.

  123. Jobs factory

    Daily Politics

    Live on BBC Two

    Over to the MPs panel now, and transport minister Claire Perry concedes that the government had not met the target. But she says that no-one could have predicted the UK would become the "jobs factory of Europe", which is why migration to the UK has increased, she adds. Ms Perry stresses the government's "commitment" to bringing down immigration.

  124. Miliband's tactics

    Daily Politics

    Live on BBC Two

    The Guardian's Nick Watt predicts that Ed Miliband will not want to define his election campaign on immigration, but rather on the cost of living. "But for today's purposes he felt he had a clear way of getting a clear win on immigration, and clearly the prime minister was uneasy," he adds.

  125. PMQs analysis

    Daily Politics

    Live on BBC Two

    Let's go back to the Daily Politics for a moment, where we're getting some reaction to PMQs. Guardian commentator Nick Watt says the PM clearly knew what was coming on immigration. He knew that Ed Miliband would mention David Cameron's pre-election "contract with Britain", and so had a copy to hand to reel off commitments that had been met, he added.

  126. Coming up in the Commons

    House of Commons


    That brings an end to this week's Prime Minister's Questions and in a short while MPs will turn their attention to the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill, which is going through its final stages in the Commons.

  127. Hospital failures

    Labour MP John Woodcock raised a question, before the session ended, on Furness General Hospital, after an investigation rules that a "lethal mix" of failures led to the unnecessary deaths of 11 babies and one mother. David Cameron says it is a "very important report", adding that the government wanted to see many of its recommendations implemented. Where there are problems in the NHS it is important not to sweep them under the carpet but be open and honest about them, he says, adding that his heart goes out to all those whose children died at the hospital.

  128. Pic: Cameron, Clegg and Hague

    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and William Hague
  129. Energy prices

    Labour MP Iain Mckenzie's attempt to attack David Cameron over the government's energy reforms backfires slightly, as the PM uses it as an opportunity to go on an attack of his own, by making fun of Labour's "price freeze" which he said would increase consumers' bills as energy costs have fallen.

  130. Nursery first aid

    Lib Dem MP Mark Hunter asks the prime minister if he supports a campaign to ensure that all nursery staff are qualified in paediatric first aid, and if so, if he will seek to hurry up a government review on the matter. David Cameron says it makes sense for as many people as possible to have that sort of training, and promises to speak to the relevant minister in charge of the review.

  131. Child protection

    Labour MP Meg Munn says it is time to make child protection "much more central" within the Ofsted process and ensure every school is inspected on this area regularly, even if they are rated "outstanding". David Cameron says he will look carefully at her suggestion.

  132. Emily Thornberry, Labour MP


    tweets: Cameron refuses to rule out putting up tuition fees if re-elected #pmqs

  133. Tuition fees

    Seema Malhotra, a Labour MP, uses her question to ask the PM to rule out increasing tuition fees any further. David Cameron says universities are now better funded, with the number of students having increased, including from poorer backgrounds. Labour has taken four years to work out its own "useless" policy, which hits universities and helps rich students rather than poor ones. It represents the "chaos" that a Labour government would bring, he adds.

  134. Charlotte Leslie, Tory MP


    tweets: In #PMQs. Never seen anyone look so upset that youth unemployment's gone down as the people opposite me.Just Wow.Election time IS here. :-(