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Summary

  1. Tories and Labour face pressure over claims they could be forced into deal with UKIP or the SNP
  2. SNP's Nicola Sturgeon denies report she privately said she would "prefer" David Cameron as PM
  3. UKIP's Nigel Farage defends comments about migrants using the NHS for HIV treatment
  4. Further reaction to Thursday's live TV debate, which ITV says was watched by seven million viewers
  5. There are 34 days until the general election

Live Reporting

By Andy McFarlane and Brian Wheeler

All times stated are UK

Get involved

Recap: Friday round-up

  • Parties began the day still putting a positive spin on their respective leaders' performances in Thursday night's televised debate, although polls pointed to no clear winner
  • SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was in buoyant mood as her supporters claimed victory. But she ended the day denying reports she privately told a foreign official she "preferred" David Cameron over Ed Miliband as PM
  • Labour and the Conservatives faced pressure over claims they could be forced into a post-election deal with UKIP or the SNP, respectively
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage defended comments made during the debate about migrants using the NHS for HIV treatment costing £25,000 per year

Saturday's Guardian

Guardian front page, 4/4/15
Guardian

FT Weekend front page

Financial Times front page, 4/4/15
Financial Times

Saturday's Daily Express

Daily Express front page, 4/4/15
Daily Express

Different debate, similar headline

BBC political producer Emily Clark dug out a copy of the Times from 2010 to find a striking similarity with Friday's post-debate front page headline. "Almost the same, but so very different," she notes.

Issues of the Times from 2015 and 2010
BBC

Severin Carrell, Guardian Scotland correspondent

@severincarrell

tweets :

French consul general tells @GdnScotland no such views given by @NicolaSturgeon "absolutely no preference was expressed" on #GE2015 outcome

Saturday's i front page

The i front page, 4/4/15
The i

Ruth Davidson MSP, Scottish Conservatives leader

@RuthDavidsonMSP

So, @NicolaSturgeon says @Telegraph story is untrue. Does that mean she DOES see Ed as PM material? #constituencyof1

Damian McBride, former Labour press adviser

@DPMcBride

tweets :

Forget the politics of the Sturgeon memo for a second; the FCO needs to have the mother of all leak inquiries into how it got out.

More from the SNP

The BBC's James Cook reports: "A source close to Nicola Sturgeon says Civil Service minutes of the meeting between the SNP leader and the French ambassador make no mention of a discussion of Ms Sturgeon's preference for prime minister."

The source said the minutes showed the discussion focused on the possibility of a referendum on British membership of the European Union. The story was 'completely false' said the source."

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader

@NicolaSturgeon

tweets :

.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue...which I'd have told you if you'd asked me at any point today"

Labour reaction

Regardless of any SNP denial, Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy is quick to respond to the Telegraph's story. He describes the story as a "devastating revelation that exposes the uncomfortable truth behind the SNP's General Election campaign".

For months Nicola Sturgeon has been telling Scots she wants rid of David Cameron yet behind closed doors with foreign governments she admits she wants a Tory Government."

Jim Murphy
PA

"We've been here before with the SNP... [they] say one thing in public but another in private. If Scotland votes SNP in May then Nicola Sturgeon will get her wish - the Tories will be the largest party across the UK and David Cameron will return to Downing Street."

Sturgeon denial

The BBC's James Cook reports: "Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has denied telling the French ambassador to the UK that she would prefer David Cameron as prime minister."

Saturday's Telegraph

Here's that Telegraph front page, which describes the SNP leader's "secret backing" for Mr Cameron.

Daily Telegraph front page, 4/4/15
Telegraph

Sturgeon 'prefers Cameron' claim

It looks like a big story is brewing in one of tomorrow's papers. On its website, the Telegraph claims to have seen a leaked memo detailing how SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon privately told a foreign official she would "rather see" David Cameron remain in No 10 after the election because Ed Miliband was not "prime minister material".

The BBC is awaiting responses from both the SNP and Labour, about the Telegraph's version of what's reportedly an official account of Ms Sturgeon's meeting with the French Ambassador in February.

Saturday's Times

Times front page, 4/4/15
The Times

Saturday's Independent

Independent front page, 4/4/15
Independent

Hot off the press

Some of Saturday's front pages have started to arrive - and it looks like political stories will be featuring on many of them.

Voter voices

Avid readers might recall that BBC Radio 4 World at One's Shaun Ley has spent the week in Dudley, where Labour are sweating over a UKIP challenge in one constituency and the Conservatives fearing the Farage effect in another.

But will the challenge from the eurosceptic party materialise? "It's not hard to find people who say they're attracted by UKIP's message, but not sure they'll vote for it," says Shaun.

Find out what's on the minds of the electorate, in his latest dispatch.

Composite image showing scenes from the BBC's pop-up centre in Dudley
BBC

Rafael Behr, political columnist, The Guardian

@rafaelbehr

tweets :

This election is missing cockamamie voter tribes. Remember 'Worcester Woman'; 'Pebble-dash people'? What is the *key* demographic this time?"

Have your questions answered

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason is finding time between bulletins to answer questions posed on his Facebook Q&A . Katy Eloise, politics editor at Nouse - the University of York's student newspaper - asked: "Do you think Sturgeonmania will last or will it subside like Cleggmania?"

Here's Chris's reply:

The big difference is the huge spike in the SNP's fortunes wasn't caused by the debates - but the fall out of the referendum vote. And the opinion polls suggest - at the moment - that it is more sustainable than the Cleggmania bounce the Lib Dems had."

Our correspondent continues: "The funny thing with Cleggmania is the party actually LOST seats at the 2010 general election. But what we don't know is whether they would have lost more without it or whether the mania had simply fizzled out by polling day."

Salmond on a high

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond was clearly impressed with his successor's performance last night, as he proved while campaigning in Kirkcaldy.

Alex Salmond holds aloft a newspaper proclaiming Nicola Sturgeon's debate success
PA

'More spirited' than US debate

BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher has been in the UK to describe the British election campaign for the audience in the States. And he reckons last night's fare was "much more interesting" than is served up across the pond.

The diversity of viewpoints was refreshing; the tenor of the discussion spirited."

The writer imagines a reworked 2012 debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney - with the addition of "conservative populist firebrand Pat Buchanan, Libertarian Ron Paul, a Green Party candidate and pro-independence nationalists from Texas and New England".

Going menthol

This endless talk of policies, polling and possible coalitions is taking its toll on the commentators. This request from a BBC News Channel producer found its way to Election Live team a short while ago:

Random - and urgent - request for Strepsils (other brands are available)... For a guest who is on air at 1930 please."

Boost for Miliband

More on that Survation poll. It gives Labour leader Ed Miliband his first ever net positive approval rating, meaning more people approve of the way he's been doing his job than disapprove.

It's "rocketed" to 4.4%, says the Mirror - although that's still a way behind David Cameron (7.7%).

The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon surged 19 points since to 15.4%, placing her as the most popular leader, followed by Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood. Despite a decent increase in support, Nick Clegg is still in negative territory as the least popular party chief. Nigel Farage is placed fourth, behind David Cameron.

Mirror opinion poll

A Survation poll for the Daily Mirror puts Labour two points in front of the Conservatives. That's the same result as its last survey, a week ago. The only shift is that UKIP has gained one percentage point, rising to 18%, at the expense of the Greens (3%). The poll places the Lib Dems fourth (9%), with the SNP on 5%.

'Few switch votes'

Asked about the importance of TV debates, Prof Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, tells the BBC News Channel they help galvanise the core vote but that last night's televised event probably made little difference to the election. "Most people tune into a debate to root for their sides," he says.

Prof Larry Sabato
BBC

Very few people switch their votes based on what they see in a debate, unless there's a terrible gaffe."

Too young to vote?

Former Labour cabinet minister Margaret Beckett says an Ed Miliband government would pass legislation to give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote. Meanwhile, the Conservatives' Justice Minister Chris Grayling says he expects a debate on this issue in the new parliament.

That won't please UKIP. A couple of days ago, the party's economic spokesman, Patrick O'Flynn, was arguing that people aged 16 and 17 shouldn't be allowed to vote in any referendum on EU membership because they had been "brainwashed" by pro-Brussels propaganda at school.

Dressed to impress

Comedian Eddie Izzard is wearing out some impressive shoe leather campaigning for Labour. He's in the Black Country today, wearing bright red lipstick, a black pencil skirt and black high heels that would do Theresa May proud.

He's criticised UKIP leader Nigel Farage's aim of leaving the EU. "Running and hiding from Europe is not going to change anything," he says.

Eddie Izzard, right, with Labour's candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Stephanie Peacock in Halesowen town centre
PA

You've got to be engaged in Europe to change it."

Uke can't

George Formby would not be impressed.

The Electoral Commission has ruled that a Devon man who planned to stand for election under the banner of the Ukulele Independence Party cannot use the name.

It could too easily be confused with that of Nigel Farage's United Kingdom Independence Party, the watchdog ruled.

George Formby playing a ukulele
GETTY IMAGES

Kevin Tyrrell's manifesto would have included free ukuleles for hospital patients and a new bank holiday to celebrate Formby's birth, according to the Western Morning News.

No exit?

Here's the sort of picture you're not too likely to see during this election campaign.

Tony Blair being led through a curtain beneath a sign reading "exit".
GETTY IMAGES

That's former PM Tony Blair being led under an "exit" sign at Labour's 2005 party conference. But the BBC's Callum May describes how party spin doctors have been covering up these pesky illuminated menaces to foil attempts to snap embarrassing photographs of party leaders.

The Association of Chief Fire Officers is unimpressed, however. A spokesman complained: "It puts people at risk of getting trapped or lost if a fire breaks out."

Political headaches

Fashion magazine Cosmopolitan has been getting to the heart of what matters in this election: politicians' favourite hangover cures.

Conservative cabinet minister Nicky Morgan plumped for a trusty bacon sandwich which, perhaps unsurprisingly, wasn't the first choice of Labour leader Ed Miliband. It's been a while since he's had a hangover, apparently, but his fail safe is "drinking lots of water".

And what about Nick Clegg? "Three young boys running around usually does the trick." Hmm, not sure we'd agree. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett's go-to sounds great, if a little hard work: "Home-baked gluten-free bread with butter and honey."

So there you have it.

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BBC Election 2015 newsletter screengrab
BBC

Frosty relations?

The BBC's Ben Geoghegan has been reading into the body language at the end of the debate, and he reckons David Cameron wasn't too impressed with his Lib Dem deputy.

"The handshake between the prime minister and Nick Clegg was a little bit perfunctory, a little bit frosty," he says.

I'm not sure whether the prime minister didn't feel a little bit put out that he had come under such early and quite aggressive attack from Nick Clegg."

Sheffield Lib Dems

@SheffLibDems

tweets:

Teabreak for team @nick_clegg before getting back out on the doorstep, lots of praise for last night's #leadersdebate"

Nick Clegg's campaign team have tea and biscuits
@SheffLibDems

'Both contenders succeeded'

Commentators are still scoring the debate. Alex Deane, former speechwriter for David Cameron, offers his view via the Real Clear World blog . Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he reckons his old boss top-scored with 8/10, alongside Nicola Sturgeon.

Deane had Miliband and Farage level on 7/10, and the three others on 5/10. But, pointing to polls suggesting a 50-50 split when respondents were asked who had performed best between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, he says there's plenty of life in the campaign yet.

The more the public sees Miliband, the more it does not dismiss him as a potential prime minister... For Cameron, not slipping up was key... They both succeeded."

HIV 'doesn't discriminate'

Nigel Farage's comment during the leaders' debate about migrants using the NHS for HIV treatment at a cost of £25,000 a year per patient provoked plenty of reaction. It was the most tweeted about comment of the entire debate, according to BBC social media editor Chris Hamilton.

Now Dr Rosemary Gillespie, of HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, has chipped in , saying: "HIV doesn't discriminate and politicians shouldn't either".

Such ill-informed and discriminatory comments generate stigma, and make it harder to encourage people to take a test and stay safe."

Jeff we can

Political junkies who fancy a break from all this talk of election debates could do worse than check out a new play about Geoffrey Howe - the mild-mannered minister who toppled Margaret Thatcher with a deadly resignation speech. Thatcher is played by Steve Nellon (pictured), who you may remember as one of the voices of Spitting Image.

It's "a love letter to old-style politics," playwright Jonathan Maitland," tells the BBC's Brian Wheeler, "where being rubbish on TV didn't matter."

Dead Sheep is at the Park Theatre, in Finsbury Park, North London, until 9 May.

Steve Nellon
Sean Bell
Steve Nellon as Margaret Thatcher in Dead Sheep

The full monty

Want to watch the whole two-hour debate all over again?

Fear not, now you can. Click here if you dare.

That's all from Marie and Gerry for now - we're off home to do exactly that. Honest.

Thanks for joining us. Andy and Brian are here to bring you all the latest updates and analysis until midnight.

Chasing votes

Ross Hawkins

Political correspondent

tweets:

Finally get mile from home travelling back from Salford and Cons battlebus looms into view. The election's following me"