Let's have (another) heated debate

Just listen to that..... quiet isn't it.

Such a relief after the wall of noise that was our political leaders shouting at each other for two hours.

Funnily enough the Conservatives will tell you David Cameron won the argument on the big issues, Labour will say Ed Miliband's taken another step towards Downing Street, and the Lib Dems will claim to be the only party to have gained votes on the night.

That may well be true -- but considering their current position the only way is up.

Nick Clegg tried to recapture a little of the bounce that followed the 2010 debates -- hard to do when you've been in government for five years. 

Eventually David Cameron tired of his "pick and mix" approach and told him off -- you couldn't help but wonder if that ever happened in the Cabinet room.

Mr Clegg was clearly determined to land a few punches on the Tory leader -- vital to demonstrate to lost Lib Dem voters the Rose Garden love-in is firmly in the past.

The Prime Minister tried his best to avoid getting dragged into the arguments, to rise above it all and hammer home his points about the economy.

And while Mr Cameron did all he could to avoid a head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband, the two tried their best to freeze out the smaller parties.

Ed Miliband spent most of his time arguing with the Prime Minister or staring straight at the camera, talking to the voters.

He was a little less assured than against Paxman last week, and all of them ended up repeating the same stock phrases.

It all allowed Nicola Sturgeon to carve out a clever role -- furious at the London parties, on behalf of left-leaning voters across the UK, not just in Scotland.

Why? She knows the predicted SNP surge alarms many English voters -- and that alarm could, perhaps, make some voters think again.

Leanne Wood looked like she couldn't believe she was there, and decided from the start to talk almost exclusively about Welsh affairs -- shoring up the only support that matters to her.

Natalie Bennett fought so hard to be on that stage, but in the end she struggled to cut through.

"I warned you at the beginning. I told you they were all the same"

Nigel Farage, perhaps bizarrely, was channeling Nick Clegg. The UKIP leader wanted to look like the insurgent.

We knew what he would say about immigration, but his comments about foreign nationals with HIV drew the night's only sharp intake of breath. 

It was, I suspect, a deliberate move -- Mr Farage knew he'd be condemned by at least one of his rivals, and knew it would play well with his own supporters. A deliberate move cannot be described as a gaffe.

So who won? Did anyone? Did it change a single vote? The snap polls seem pretty divided, but in a way they send the same message as every other survey.

Labour and the Conservatives are trapped -- neck and neck, neither likely to surge towards the victory line. The Lib Dems are still struggling to avoid a meltdown, the SNP are stronger than they've ever been.

What happens next could still hinge on those smaller parties. Some polls are starting to suggest support for both UKIP and the Greens is starting to fade. If a significant proportion of those voters start looking for another party to support they could end up deciding the General Election