Victory is mine! David Cameron addressing the party faithful after the third and final debate
David Cameron is victorious after clean sweep in snap polls
Tory leader attacks PM over disgraced banker Sir Fred Goodwin
Nick Clegg comes under fire for amnesty on illegal immigrants
Gordon Brown tries to argue 'my rivals aren't ready to govern'
All three leaders gloss over 'Bigot-gate' to focus on economy
A combative David Cameron scored a vital win over Nick Clegg last night as he tore into Liberal Democrat policies on immigration, Europe and tax.
A week before election day, the Conservative leader raised his game in the last TV clash with his two rivals.
He landed blows on an exhausted-looking Gordon Brown over Labour's knighthood for disgraced banker Sir Fred Goodwin and his plans to hike National Insurance for everyone earning £20,000 or more.
The Prime Minister closed with a startling admission that Labour is on course for defeat. 'I know if things stay as they are, David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office,' he said.
But he pleaded with voters to avoid what he called a 'coalition of cuts'.
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Nervous: Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown bizarrely both lifted their legs as the debate progressed
Labour spin chief Alastair Campbell was overheard telling security staff that 'We've had it' following Mr Brown's poor performance.
He later insisted he had been talking about his football team, Burnley, relegated from the Premier League last weekend.
In a sign of how badly Labour thought the night went, it emerged party strategists complained five times during the course of the event to BBC moderators. The Tories and Lib Dems did not file any complaints.
Instant polls after the debate all pronounced Mr Cameron the winner - and gave the first indication that Mr Brown's slim chances of victory have been hit by his disastrous 'bigot' attack on a Labour-supporting grandmother.
Mr Cameron's aides were heard cheering as polls began to emerge declaring him the victor of last night's debate.
A YouGov survey for the Sun showed Mr Cameron gaining 41 per cent audience approval, with Mr Clegg on 32 and Gordon Brown on 25.
ComRes, for ITV News, gave Mr Cameron 35 per cent, Mr Clegg 33 and Mr Brown on 26. A third, by Angus Reid, gave Mr Cameron 36, Mr Clegg 31 and Mr Brown 23.
And the MailOnline's own poll, which initially showed Mr Clegg in front, also showed a Tory victory by midnight. It had Mr Cameron on 45 per cent, Mr Clegg on 43 and Mr Brown trailing on 12 per cent.
This morning Mr Cameron's lead had grown further to 51 per cent, Mr Clegg 37 per cent and Mr Brown 12 per cent.
Last chance saloon: The three party leaders in the fight of their lives at the debate in Birmingham
Last chance saloon: The leaders did battle in the impressive hall at the University of Birmingham
All three leaders pointedly ignored the biggest story of the week as they glossed over Gordon Brown's insult of a Labour-supporting pensioner who dared to question him over immigration.
They barely mentioned the furore, in which he called Gillian Duffy a 'bigoted woman', despite it being one of the most grievous election gaffes of modern times.
The Prime Minister even attempted to laugh off the scandal - dubbed 'Bigot-gate - by making a joke about the massive backlash against his unguarded comment.
In his opening pitch, he said: 'There's a lot to this job. And as you saw yesterday, I do not get all of it right. But I do know how to run the economy in the good times and in the bad.'
But despite devoting a full ten minutes to answering a question about immigration, the Prime Minister and his two rivals failed to make any further reference to the affair.
Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg may have chosen to ignore the issue to avoid provoking public sympathy for Mr Brown but their conspiracy of silence is likely to infuriate many voters who already feel alienated by the main parties.
Throughout the clash, the Conservative leader did not make the mistake of the first debate - where he ignored the threat of Mr Clegg in the face of attacks from Mr Brown.
Instead, he was able to parry the Prime Minister's assaults and reserve his strongest fire for the Lib Dem. Mr Cameron was scathing about Mr Clegg's plan for Britain to scrap the pound and offer an amnesty for 600,000 illegal immigrants.
Head-to-head: The three leaders are desperate to convince voters ahead of polling day next week
Final showdown: Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg confront each other in the last leaders' debate
In the eye of the storm: Gillian Duffy leaving her home in Rochdale yesterday
A rattled Mr Clegg attempted to claim he did not want to join the euro immediately and defended his migration plans, claiming his offer of citizenship did not amount to an amnesty.
Mr Cameron insisted that if the Lib Dem leader had his way, British taxpayers would be facing a multi-billion-pound bill to bail out the crippled Greek economy.
He also put tackling Labour's culture of welfare dependency at the heart of his bid for power - saying one of his priorities would be rewarding hard work and forcing those who could do a job to get off benefits.
Mr Brown retreated to his traditional 'cuts versus investment' stance - promising to protect schools and hospitals and attacking Tory plans to cut £6billion in wasteful government spending. Time and again, he attacked Tory proposals to scrap inheritance tax for everyone but millionaires.
Mr Brown said he had never been as angry as he was before he nationalised the banks, when he was told by a bank boss that the only problem he was facing was cash flow.
Mr Cameron landed a heavy blow on the Prime Minister as he said he must have been talking about the disgraced former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin.
Mr Brown had failed to regulate the banks and Labour had handed Sir Fred a knighthood, only to see him bring the economy to its knees.
Mr Clegg blundered badly on immigration - claiming five times that Mr Cameron's plan for an annual cap on non-EU migration would be ineffective because 80 per cent of migrants into Britain come from Europe.
In fact, the latest annual data from the Office of National Statistics show the real figure is a third.
Mr Cameron received a boost last night as the Economist magazine switched its support to his party, saying the Tories had been most clear about the need to cut back the size of the state.
Question 1: Why can't you be honest about spending cuts?Clegg: 'We've set out much greater detail than any other party - £15billion worth of savings - which are a sort of upfront down payment to deal with this huge black hole that we have in our public finances.
'Those are the kind of big decisions that you need to take, but what you can't do... is try and fool you into thinking that just efficiency savings are enough. You can't fill the black hole with just a few savings on pot plants and paper clips in Whitehall.'
He added that his party had set out detail in their manifesto on public sector pay restraint, cutting tax credits for the top 20 per cent of recipients, and scrapping the Eurofighter and biometric passport projects.
But he admitted: 'Clearly more work will need to be done.'
Brown: Labour has set out a four-year 'deficit reduction plan' starting in 2011 including 'tax rises that are fair, spending cuts that are equitable, and at the same time growth in the economy that is essential for recovery'.
'We have one principle that we are adopting and it's clear. We are not going to allow the frontline National Health Service, or schools or policing to be cut. We will find the cuts in other areas.
'Don't believe that we can fail to support the economy this year. If we fail to support the economy this year then we risk a double-dip recession and that's really the problem with the Conservative policy.'
He argued that it was crucial in an 'uncertain and dangerous world' not to remove £6billion from the economy, as he claims the Tories' curb on National Insurance rises would do.
He accused the Tories of wanting to remove the NI rise for 'ideological reasons', urging: 'Please let us not make the mistake of the 1930s, and the 1980s and the 1990s, and let us support the economy until the recovery is assured.'
Cameron: Politicians needed to be 'frank' about the fact cuts were coming and the Tories were the 'first to say' that cuts would have to be made.
'If I were your prime minister, I will do everything I can to protect the frontline services.' He insisted: 'We are not just relying on waste.'
Other plans include a public sector pay freeze and an extension of the retirement age, he said, but he insisted not enforcing Labour' 'job tax' was vital to getting the economy going again.
Mr Cameron said he was proposing to save one in every £100 and pointed to business support for his plans.
'We say roll up your sleeves now - let's save waste where we can to stop the taxes. It's the right thing to do and it will help get the economy moving.'
Question 2: What will you do about taxes?Brown: He admitted it had been 'tough in the last few years because of the recession' but argued: 'What we've tried to do when people are in difficulty is provide tax credits.
'We've brought down the basic rate of tax from 23p when we came in to 20p. At the same time we've raised the top rate of tax above £150,000 to 50p so that's there for ordinary hard-working families.'
Mr Brown said he did not believe in the Conservatives' plans to cut tax credits but 'at the same time give an inheritance tax cut to the 3,000 richest people in the country of £200,000'.
'Now that's not fairness, that's the same old Conservative party - tax cuts for the rich and cutting the child tax credits for the very poor, it's simply not fair.'
He added: 'Six million people in this country receive tax credits and the Conservatives and the Liberals have a plan to reduce tax credits for middle class families.'
The Prime Minister claimed that the Conservatives only wanted to help the 'richest estates in the country'.
Cameron: The Tory leader branded Mr Brown's attack 'very desperate stuff from someone who's in a desperate state'.
He said the taxpayer was having to pay 'more and more and more' as the Government had spent more and more and had been so careless at trying to stop wasting money.
'Obviously with the terrible situation we have with our public finances, with the mess left by Gordon and Labour, where out of every £4 the Government spends, one is borrowed - it's not possible to make great big tax giveaway promises. Even if it would be a lovely thing to do, you can't do it.
'But what we've said is let's try to stop the one tax that's going to hit the lowest paid people and that's the national insurance tax.'
The top rate of tax and extra tax on pensions could not be stopped, he said. 'But we are going to stop that one tax that would hit the lowest-paid the hardest.
'And let me just say this about tax credits - they would stay under a Conservative government. Gordon Brown has got to stop misleading families in this country like he's been misleading older people and cancer patients as well.'
On inheritance tax, he said: 'I believe if you work hard and you save money and you put aside money to try and pay down your mortgage on a family home, you shouldn't have to sell that or give it to the taxman when you die. You should be able to pass it on to your children. It's the most natural human instinct of all. The other two parties don't understand that.'
Clegg: He branded Britain's tax system 'grotesquely unfair'. 'After 13 years of Labour, who would have believed it? That you would have our tax system where multi-millionaires from the City of London pay a lower rate of tax on their capital gains ... than a cleaner does on her wages.'
'David Cameron says you can't afford tax giveaways - no you can't. What you can do is switch the tax system, make it fair, make sure those huge loopholes that only people at the top ... can get out of paying tax, close those loopholes and give the money back to people so they pay no income tax on the first £10,000 that you earn.'
Mr Brown said no-one earning under £20,000 would pay the national insurance rise.
The rise was necessary to ensure the future of the police and emergency services.
He also rounded on the Tory leader over his inheritance tax plans, arguing that he had given the 'most creative justification I've ever heard for giving tax breaks to double millionaires'.
Question 3: Is it fair for bailed-out banks to pay huge bonuses?Cameron: He said banks paying huge bonuses after they had been bailed out with taxpayers' cash was 'completely unacceptable' and needed to be 'sorted out for the future'.
The Tory leader declared that the Bank of England should be given responsibility for regulating financial institutions, rather than the Financial Services Authority.
He also promised to bring in a levy on banks unilaterally if necessary, and said he would emulate moves by President Obama to prevent retail banks engaging in the riskiest investment activities.
'(Retail banks) should not be behaving like casinos, taking wild bets,' he said.
After Mr Brown referred to ex-RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin, he said: 'It was actually this government that gave this man a knighthood for services to banking. He not only broke his own bank, he very nearly broke down the whole economy.
Clegg: He promised that the Lib Dems would 'root out' the 'outrageous' abuse by banning cash bonuses above £2,500.
And he pledged that there would be no bonuses at all for senior staff if banks were making a loss.
Trying to set himself apart, he claimed: 'The blunt truth is that both Conservative and Labour governments have been far too close to the City of London for ages.'
Brown: The Prime Minister said he had taken the decisions to rescue Northern Rock, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB, protecting the deposits of millions of people.
He warned that bankers would never be allowed to 'act in such an irresponsible way again.'
'I have never been so angry as when I talked to the chairman of a bank who told me the night before his bank collapsed that all he had was a cash flow problem. I knew it was a structural failing that was absolutely fundamental and it needed to be recapitalised immediately,' he said.
He added: 'We do need a worldwide agreement to get a global financial levy that is charged in every country, so that we are not undercut by other countries and there is a race to the bottom.'
Question 4: How will you save the manufacturing sector?Clegg: Mr Clegg said he wanted to get the banks lending again, describing it as an 'outrage' that bailed-out banks were lending less.
'Unless we get the banks helping businesses, it is extremely difficult for them to expand their products, invest in their factories and actually invest in creating new jobs,' he said.
Pointing to the fact RBS had lent money to assist the Kraft takeover of Cadbury leading to job losses in Britain, Mr Clegg said: 'When you lent the money to the banks, did you think that money would be used to put people out of work in Britain? No, and it was wrong.'
He also set out plans to invest in green technologies and infrastructure.
Brown: Mr Brown said he had plans to create 400,000 jobs in low carbon industries, 500,000 in the digital industry and 100,000 in biotechnology. 'I'm optimistic about the British economy,' he added.
He reiterated the need to keep money in the economy, saying: 'We have got to face up to the fact that we have got to act now - we cannot take money out of the economy and we have got to support manufacturing, not withdraw the support.'
Cameron: Mr Cameron said the country was losing manufacturing faster than in the 1980s, setting out plans to invest in the science base and apprenticeships.
But he wanted lower taxes for businesses, saying 'we cannot ignore the basics' of 'making it easier for business to employ people'.
He said there was 'confusion between the Government and the economy' in Mr Brown's accusations, and said he wanted to cut red tape.
Mr Cameron also said government should give a quarter of its contracts to the small firms that would be the 'success stories of tomorrow', and remove National Insurance from the first 10 employees.
Question 5: Why do you ignore public concerns about immigration?
Cameron: 'Immigration in this country has been too high for too long, and that's why we have got a very clear approach to cut it and cut it quite substantially.'
Proposing a cap on non-EU migrants and 'transition controls' for new EU countries, Mr Cameron said he wanted to get back to a situation where net inward migration was in the tens of thousands not the hundreds of thousands.
He rounded on Mr Clegg, declaring: 'People do need to know that the Liberal Democrats propose an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
'Now that could mean that some 600,000 people who are here illegally would actually be allowed to stay here and be given full citizenship, access to welfare, access to council housing and could also each bring a relative into our country.
'That just doesn't make sense - that I think is a complete mistake which would make a bad situation we've had under 13 years of Labour even worse.'
Clegg: The Lib Dem leader accused the other parties of being 'misleading' as he battled to defend his policy of giving an amnesty to thousands of illegal immigrants.
He insisted that Conservative and Labour governments had 'created chaos in the immigration system' and this could not be ignored.
'Now they're here, OK? It's a problem. They're here whether we like it or not. And I'm saying for those people who've been here for a decade who speak English, who want to play by the rules, who want to pay their taxes, who want to come out of the shadows, do community service to make up for what they've done wrong, it's better to get them out of the hands of criminals...'
The Lib Dem proposal 'might be controversial' but 'get real - this is a problem you created, we now need to sort it on a one-off basis', he said.
He insisted: 'I'm not advocating an amnesty - in fact the only politician who is advocating a blanket amnesty is Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London.'
Something needed to be done about the people 'living in the shadows of our economy' - the other two parties wanted to 'deny this as a problem and hope that it would go away - it won't', he said.
'I'll tell you who benefits from this layer of people who have been living here for years and years and years in the shadows of our society - it's the nasty criminal gangs who exploit them, exploit it and create crime in our communities.'
He claimed a Conservative cap on immigration was 'complete nonsense' as 80 per cent of people coming into the UK were from the EU, and these numbers could not be capped.
Tories were advocating 'false hope', he said.
Brown: He dodged the question, declaring that the 'only reason' he went into politics was because he saw what was going on in his community.
'The reason I want to be in politics is to create jobs. And when it comes to immigration, I want to see a situation where we increase the number of jobs that people trained in Britain can take as we lower the numbers of people coming into this country.'
He said that was why unskilled workers from outside Europe had been banned from coming into Britain, and the number of semi-skilled and skilled workers was being reduced.
People were being trained up so that 'in the next few years, as we move forward out of this recession, the jobs will go to people trained in Britain'.
But he said he agreed with the Tory leader on about the amnesty. 'I can't see how you set out anything other than the worst possible message if you give an amnesty to people who come here illegally.'
Question 6: How will you help families get on the housing ladder?Cameron: He said he had 'every sympathy' because all too often, people who had saved and worked hard 'had hurdles put in their way'.
Others who did not play by the rules were often rewarded and this was 'not right', he said.
He said the priority was for more houses to be built. The planning system should be changed so that councils were rewarded for building homes.
Clegg: Mr Clegg said there were too many empty properties in Britain, which could be converted into family homes.
'We have a plan ... to convert 250,000 empty homes into homes that people can live in.'
Brown: Mr Brown said Labour had offered an array of help, including stamp duty relief for first time buyers, shared equity schemes and getting building societies to lend money.
He added: 'The housebuilding industry has really not served us well in this country and when the crisis happened, the building firms didn't have enough capital, weren't able to survive and so many went under.'
He said he was determined to keep interest rates low to benefit existing and would-be homeowners, branding the Lib Dems a 'risk to interest rates'.
Question 7: Why do people not contributing to society get benefits?Brown: Mr Brown insisted he had been bringing 'compulsion' into the welfare system. 'No life on the dole, that's my policy,' he said.
He stressed the Government was insisting that young people and those on long-term benefits took jobs when they could. 'These are the measures of compulsion.'
He tried to skewer Mr Cameron on the Tories' record, saying: 'We do not want a generation of young people growing up and not working. That is what happened in the 1980s under David's party.'
Cameron: The Tory leader turned the tables on the Prime Minister by shooting back: 'I am unsure about what country Gordon Brown thinks he is Prime Minister of... he caused record unemployment.'
He said Mr Brown should not try to pretend that his economic record was 'magnificent' as he argued that Government should tell people that if they can work, they had to.
'If you are offered a job that you can do and you do not take it then you can't go on taking benefits,' he argued.
Clegg: He said the Lib Dems wanted to help older people by restoring the earnings link for pensions immediately. 'Let's get on and do that,' he added.
The Lib Dem leader said he wanted to give people 'incentives' to work rather than keep piling benefits on them.
Question 8: How will you ensure deprived children get a fair chance? Brown: The Prime Minister pointed out that the Government had set up free nursery education, SureStart centres, maternity and paternity pay and higher child tax credits.
'That is the sort of way that we can help give chances,' he said, as he went on to set out measures for personal tuition and keeping young people in school.
'This is the way that we can have a new generation of middle class jobs in this country where young people from poor backgrounds can get the opportunities that they have never had before,' he said.
'You can't escape this fact about poverty. If you cut child tax credits, if you charge for nursery education, if you cut the schools budget then you put the future of these young children at risk,' he said.
He accused both parties of forming a 'coalition of cuts' on child tax credits and Mr Cameron of wanting to press ahead with the other cuts.
Of Mr Cameron, he claimed: 'He is making the people who are the poorest bear the cost of his policies while he has still got this ridiculous policy on inheritance tax.'
Cameron: Mr Cameron said he wanted to improve discipline in schools by giving teachers and headteachers more control. 'Discipline is the absolute foundation of a good education and right now it just doesn't work,' he said.
The Tory leader also set out his 'Big Society' plans to allow parents and teachers to set up new schools, saying he wanted 'choice, diversity and excellence' in the state sector.
Mr Clegg said his party would use £2.5 billion on a 'pupil premium' to be spent on the million poorest children and improve their educations.
'We have got a plan to deliver more one-to-one tuition, smaller class sizes to help those children the most in the crucial early years.
It would help end the 'link' between poverty and performance in the classroom that was 'holding back' so many children. 'Get it right at that early age and we can really help people in later life,' he said.
He accused the Prime Minister of having 'absolutely nothing left positive to say'.
'Thirteen years. Thirteen years of economic failure; 13 years sadly of quite a lot of educational failure; 13 years where inequality has got worse and poverty has got worse and which they haven't got to grips with the problems.'
He pledged to 'get the basics right' by teaching children to read and write using synthetic phonics and setting children by ability.
'Education is about the basics, yes. It's about aspiration, saying to every child, no matter where they come from, you can go all the way according to your talent.
'That's what education should be about, and that's what it would be under our government.'People would 'see straight through' Mr Brown's 'attempt to frighten people', Mr Cameron added.
Clegg: The Lib Dem leader said he did not think people on a MP's salary should be allowed to claim child tax credit at a time when money was tight, saying it should be focused 'where it is really needed'.
He vowed to spend £2.5billion raised from efficiency savings on educating one million poorest children.
'I see for myself as a father that what happens in early years at school is most important,' he said.
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