Gary Gibbon sums up all the arguments of the night:
Nick Clegg faced up to the tuition fee issue rather than waiting for another leader to bring it to his door. He then waded into David Cameron with another direct jab over not giving money to schools. David Cameron jabbed back that Mr Clegg was applying a pick and mix approach to the coalition they both served. Ed Miliband said they’re attacking each other and they’re both right.
I reckon that is an exchange that will make its way into some news bulletin edits. Nick Clegg then attacked Ed Miliband as “pious” and ordered him to apologise for crashing the economy. Rather like a playground scene, David Cameron then piled in on Ed Miliband. Again, the men arguing amongst themselves raised the noise level. This time Natalie Bennett came in with a different, calmer tone. The different gender approaches to debate is quite striking.
A heckler interrupted twice then we heard an off-stage clunk as she was ushered out of a heavy studio door.
Nigel Farage lamented a Britain that is littered at the top of politics with the products of private schools. Keen-eyed observers of the profile of Nigel Farage we transmitted will recall he is a product of one of those himself.
If this has any impact I would expect it to fuel some more support for the smaller parties following what looks to date in the campaign like a bit of strengthening for the main two. In the case of Scotland, the polls suggest SNP support can’t grow much more. The SNP will be hoping it seals the deal with the Labour deserters who’ve come to the SNP fold since the referendum. I would expect Ukip to get a boost. I would expect it to raise Ed Miliband’s personal ratings too, a climb that Tory strategists always thought TV events might open up and which the polls already suggest is in process.
The Tories will now hope that their friends in Fleet Street turn their guns on Mr Miliband to batter down his ratings closer to where they started. David Cameron’s hope will be that in the case of Ukip that doesn’t last but in the case of the Greens and the Nationalists it runs riot.
They were all, through to the end, pretty much on their game. How high Ed Miliband’s game can go may come as a surprise to some who hadn’t paid him much attention and his rising ratings may be one of the stories that emerges. But David Cameron timed this to be far enough away from the election finishing line to neutralise any advantages gained here in Manchester tonight and erode any mini surges the next few days might show.