Newspaper headlines: Sturgeon offer to Miliband assessed

It was billed as a five-way televised election debate between the "challengers" - but the exchanges involving SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Labour's Ed Miliband come under the greatest scrutiny in Friday's papers.

The Daily Telegraph says Ms Sturgeon used the live BBC event in Westminster's Central Hall to set out the terms of her proposals to work with Mr Miliband and "lock David Cameron out of Downing Street".

The Times sums up Ms Sturgeon's message to Labour with the headline "Join me or you'll pay," explaining that she suggested that Mr Miliband was not strong enough to beat Mr Cameron alone.

According to the Guardian, the simmering contest between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Miliband came to the boil at the close of what had been a "relatively routine" debate.

But it notes that Mr Miliband spurned the repeated pleas from the SNP leader to form an anti-Tory coalition, citing "profound differences" with her.

The Daily Mirror agrees that Mr Miliband faced "huge pressure" from Ms Sturgeon to confirm a deal. But it says he "gave a fiery performance" while Mr Cameron took a kicking from all sides for his decision not to take part.

In the Independent's view, Mr Miliband survived his TV showdown as he staked his claim to be prime minister, but came under repeated fire for supporting Conservative cuts.

The Sun says Mr Miliband took a "four-way pounding" with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and UKIP all tearing into his NHS and spending plans.

Quentin Letts, writing in the Daily Mail, suggests the absence of Mr Cameron and exclusion of his coalition partner, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, left the debate "badly unbalanced" as there was no one to put a positive side on the last five years.

Future gazing?

So what impression of the parties did the papers take from the latest televised debate of the election campaign?

The Sun, which carries reports of a study by academics suggesting a deal between the SNP and Labour is a definite possibility, believes "the bad-tempered TV debate gave voters a taste... of the chaos a Labour/SNP election pact would unleash".

The Daily Express gives over its front page to the £1m donation to UKIP by the paper's owner Richard Desmond.

So it is perhaps not surprising that its take on the debate was that UKIP leader Nigel Farage "came out fighting" with his views on immigration, public spending, the Armed Forces and the NHS. Mr Farage had the last word when he told viewers the "radical change" needed to turn the country around would only be delivered by voting for the party, says the Express.

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Daily Mirror political editor Kevin Maguire praises Mr Miliband's performance, saying he had shown he was the "night's only candidate for PM". But he acknowledges "it was case of job half-done" as he failed to "demolish" Ms Sturgeon.

The Times questions why Mr Miliband did not fight hard against calls for more spending after Labour's manifesto pledge to reduce the deficit. Mr Miliband's meekness raises questions about whether he would stand up to the SNP or Greens if the outcome of the election required Labour to enter some kind of arrangement with them, it says.

A Labour agreement with the SNP that could see the party drop plans to tackle the deficit effectively also worries the Daily Telegraph. Its leader column says that would be a "calamity for the entire country". The debate was "bizarre, but ultimately revealing", it adds.

Daily Telegraph cartoonist Adams sees Mr Cameron as the "winner" on the night, portraying him with his feet up at home looking at a tablet computer, while ignoring the debate as it is screened on a TV in the background.

In the Daily Express, political commentator Leo McKinstry also believes Mr Cameron's absence will have done him no harm, despite the attacks from all sides.

Eye-catching headlines

'Questions remain'

The decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to bring charges against Labour peer Lord Janner over historical child sexual abuse allegations because of his dementia prompts debate in the leader columns.

The Director of Public Prosecutions said a fresh inquiry had produced evidence to take the 86-year-old to court and it had been wrong to drop previous cases against him following probes in 1991 and 2007. But she said it would not be in the public interest to pursue a case against the 86-year-old now.

The Daily Mail believes there are still "the most grave" questions for the CPS and police over what went on in the past.

And the Daily Express remains unconvinced that the latest announcement has been fully explained, suggesting that allowing prosecutors to make a final decision based on such medical issues was "hardly in the public interest".

The Independent acknowledges that Lord Janner is in no state to go near a courtroom and has previously denied any wrongdoing. It says that while the CPS appeared to have "little alternative in these unusual circumstances" it hopes the upcoming inquiry into historical cases of child sex abuse across the UK will "succeed in finding out some more of the truth" about the era.

Grand tradition

There is widespread coverage of Sir Kenneth Branagh's announcement that he will put on a season of five plays with his own company in London's West End over a year.

He will direct and star alongside Judi Dench in The Winter's Tale, while Richard Madden and Lily James, who feature in his film Cinderella, will play Romeo and Juliet.

The move sees him following in the footsteps of some of Britain's greatest theatre luminaries, says the Guardian.

Actors such as John Gielgud previously created a company with a residency in one theatre, it adds.

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The Daily Telegraph's arts correspondent Hannah Furness says the move has more than a hint of the grand tradition of actor-managers, dating back to the 17th century.

The Independent notes that Sir Kenneth is currently reaping the rewards of a career as an internationally-acclaimed film director who is in demand in Hollywood. And Sir Kenneth tells the paper this is why his agents are a little upset at his return to the stage at the Garrick Theatre.

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