Leaders Face Public in TV Debate

By Rowan Williams

Leaders of Britain’s major political parties have taken part in the final televised debate before the general election on 7 May. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg were each separately grilled by members of the public, defending their record and setting out their vision for the future. The Prime Minister evaded questions over the Conservative Party’s currently unspecified welfare cuts, while saying he had personally rejected fellow Ministers’ calls to cut child benefit by £8 billion in 2012. The Prime Minister also pledged that a referendum on EU membership would be a crucial factor in any negotiations in a coalition government – a hint that the Conservatives could ally with the UK Independence Party, perhaps. Labour’s Ed Miliband faced tough questioning over the spending of the previous Labour government, denying that Labour had overspent. Miliband also denied the prospect of a coalition deal with the Scottish National Party. A poll taken after the programme showed that the Prime Minister was felt to have ‘won’ the debate, with 44 percent of the vote; 38 percent felt that Miliband had ‘won’ the debate.

In America, the inquiry into the death of Freddie Gray continues as new information comes to light. Gray’s death on 19 April sparked protests that descended into riots in the city of Baltimore. Gray died from injuries sustained while in police custody. A new witness has since come forward to deny that Gray had caused his own fatal injuries while being transported in a police van. Donta Allen claimed that he was the second prisoner authorities had said travelled in the van with Gray. Police have also revealed that the police van transporting Gray made a previously undisclosed stop at a Korean food shop while en route to the police station. The investigation into Gray’s death has been handed from police to the state attorney’s office, who will decide whether any of the six officers involved will face indictment.

China’s factory output in April remained steady in April, with figures coming in slightly better than expected. The country’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) stood at 50.1 in April, identical to the same figure in March. Manufacturing activity had contracted in the first two months of 2015, with overcapacity remaining a problem. China’s politburo announced on Thursday that it would step up policy ‘adjustments’ and should cut taxes. Government stimulus has come in steady steps, with the government cutting the bank reserve requirement ratio in April. China’s manufacturing sector still faces downward pressures, however.

The Papers

Political news from last night’s Question Time leaders special programme makes the majority of headlines today. Most focus in the papers seems to be on Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, with The Guardian leading with news that Miliband “will not do deal with SNP”. Miliband was seen to ‘harden his line’ against the Scottish National party, the paper reports. The Independent leads with the same angle, writing of Miliband’s pledge that “there will be no pact to prop up minority government”. The paper reports that a snap poll put the Prime Minister as the “clear winner” of the televised debate. The Daily Telegraph writes in its headline that Miliband stumbled “over his spending record”. The paper writes of Miliband’s difficulties in defending the spending record of the previous Labour government. Miliband denied that the previous Labour government had failed economically. The Times writes that Miliband was “savaged for ‘lies’” over spending by Question Time’s audience members. One audience member accused Miliband of lying, the paper reports. The Financial Times leads with news that US tech firms face wider probing as the EU “eyes tighter web regulation”. The targets for such regulation “range from retail to telecoms”, the paper reports, and will include firms such as Google and Amazon.

British Media on China

On Sino-US relations: with tensions in the South China Sea and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) continuing between the US and China, the Financial Times features an opinion piece by Philip Stephens on the topic. Stephens writes of a “frosty peace” between the two nations, noting that the US is giving up the notion of Beijing “becoming a stakeholder in the present global order”. While observing that the US has recently regained some of its waning influence, Stephens also writes that “China has arrived”. China is now seeking to “connect economic power to geopolitical ambition”. Stephens concludes that things are “going to get rough” between the two powers, with a frosty peace the best to be hoped for.

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