LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron won the last major TV contest of Britain’s election campaign, a snap Guardian/ICM poll showed on Thursday, with 44 percent of viewers saying he had performed best on the night.
Conservative Party leader Cameron, up for re-election on Thursday next week, was subjected to 30 minutes of questions from a BBC TV audience. Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg were then - in turn - questioned by the same audience.
The poll, which surveyed 1,288 British adults after they had watched the programme, said Miliband came second, with 38 percent, and Clegg third with 19 percent.
There were no major gaffes, but Miliband briefly lost his footing and stumbled off the stage, something his critics in the country’s mostly right-leaning press seized on with glee.
Britain faces an unusually close national election on May 7 with most polls showing Cameron’s party level or narrowly ahead of or behind Labour.
The same polls show no one party is on track to win an overall majority, making another coalition government the likeliest outcome.
Thursday’s event, which took place in the northern English city of Leeds, saw all three party leaders subjected to robust questioning, with audience members sometimes accusing them of lying and abusing their trust.
Cameron, up first, came under repeated pressure to explain how he would find cuts to the country’s welfare budget worth 12 billion pounds ($18.42 billion) and was asked why some Britons were reduced to using food banks.
He did not offer new detail on where he might find budget cuts, but said job creation would help reduce the need for cuts.
“I am not saying everything is perfect, I’m saying we have not finished the work. That is why I am so keen to do another five years,” he said.
Miliband came under pressure on Labour’s spending record when it was in office from 1997-2010. He said he did not think Labour had overspent in government despite leaving behind the country’s biggest deficit since World War Two.
Miliband used the event to say he’d rather stay in opposition than do a deal with Scottish nationalists, who have been urging him to consider an arrangement to lock Cameron out of power.
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), said she was appalled by his comments.
“He sounded as if he was saying that he would rather see David Cameron and the Conservatives back in government than actually work with the SNP,” she told a televised audience on a separate programme afterwards.
“If he means that then I don’t think people in Scotland will ever forgive Labour for allowing the Conservatives to get back into office.”
Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge