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  1. David Cameron says he will only take part in one TV election debate before 30 March
  2. In a "final offer" to broadcasters, Mr Cameron calls for one debate consisting of seven leaders
  3. Ed Miliband and David Cameron clash over the record on immigration at PMQs
  4. UKIP says it wants to return immigration to "normal" levels, with up to 50,000 work permits
  5. Nigel Farage denies there's been a U-turn after he says UKIP has no formal migration cap
  6. Ex-minister Andrew Mitchell pays £80,000 in damages to a police officer at the centre of the "plebgate" row
  7. Lib Dems pledge to hand drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health
  8. There are 64 days until the general election

Live Reporting

By Gavin Stamp and Alex Stevenson

All times stated are UK

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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.

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."

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.

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?"

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.

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

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.

'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.

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.

Tories 'bullying broadcasters'

Douglas Alexander
Getty Images

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."

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.

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)

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.

'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."

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."

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".

'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".

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.

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

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.

'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."

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."

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

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.

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

Former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom


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

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.

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."

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.

Scottish polls

This is BBC Scotland correspondent

James Cook's take on the Ashcroft polling we have been discussing this evening.

UKIP 'in retreat'

The Daily Telegraph

Nigel Farage
Getty Images

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".

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."

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 ?

'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.

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."

Conservative Press Office


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

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."

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

Ashcroft's Scottish outlook

Scottish poll data
Lord Ashcroft

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

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.