Cameron, Miliband spar ahead of UK election

U.K. Election: Betting the odds
U.K. Election: Betting the odds

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    U.K. Election: Betting the odds

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U.K. Election: Betting the odds 02:32

Leeds, England (CNN)British leaders battling to be the next Prime Minister got a rough ride from skeptical voters Thursday in their final televised clash ahead of the May 7 election, but no one appeared to break open a tight race that could deliver a chaotic political aftermath.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was repeatedly accused of lying and deceiving voters, reflecting the extreme distrust many Britons harbor towards their politicians ahead of the highly anticipated election.
But the Conservative leader delivered one of his strongest performances of the campaign so far. A snap Guardian/ICM poll by found 44% of viewers thought Cameron won and 38% believed Labour leader Ed Miliband performed best in the town-hall style meeting.
    But it was Miliband who made the most striking news, categorically ruling out a coalition deal with the surging Scottish National Party, a promise that could condemn him to leading an unstable minority government in the months to come.
    Cameron went first in the event in the nationally televised debate in the northern industrial city in Leeds, and was greeted by extreme skepticism over the performance of his five-year government with the Liberal Democrats.
    "I think you are deceiving the British public," one man in the audience said to Cameron's face as he fielded tough questions on welfare, tax policy and waves of immigration from the European Union.
    "You need a prime minister who is prepared to get change in Europe," Cameron said, defending his pledge to hold a referendum on continued British membership of the economic bloc by 2017. He pledged to hike funding for the state-run health care service and said only his Conservatives could deliver the economy that would ease the cost of living crisis afflicting the middle class.
    Cameron waved around a letter left by a senior financial official in the last Labour government warning his incoming Conservative replacement in 2010 that "there's no money left."
    Miliband later countered that it was Cameron's "regular prop" but it did serve to illustrate the best Conservative argument, that the Labour Party shouldn't be trusted with the economy again.
    After promising to "let it rip" earlier this week, Cameron turned in an animated performance, to counter claims that he does not understand the economic pain still suffered by everyday Britons.
    The fact that each leader appeared individually before the audience in the bear-pit setting of a television studio surprisingly appeared to intensify the exchanges, and deprived candidates of their usual trick of offering the scripted soundbites of a formal debate.
    Miliband was repeatedly pressed on whether he would enter a coalition government with the SNP, which polls suggest could almost wipe out Labour in its heartlands in Scotland.
    "If the price of a Labour government is a coalition or a deal with the SNP -- not going to happen," Miliband said, in the most high-stakes moment of the 90-minute BBC show.
    The Labour leader underlined he would "rather not have a Labour government," than a tie up with the SNP, which could revive Scottish dreams of independence and prompt the nationalist party to push for another independence referendum.
    Miliband appeared to take a stand that it will be very difficult to take back -- but he did not rule out a more informal arrangement with the SNP, that could see the parties team up on individual pieces of legislation
    The Labour leader appeared less assured than in previous appearances of a campaign in which he is trying to counter Conservative claims he is not tough enough to serve as a national leader. But he made a plea for trust.
    "I want to be the first prime minister to under promise and over deliver, not over promise and under deliver," Miliband said. "I am not the guy who makes easy promises."
    He also averted what could have been an embarrassing incident when he tripped on a step as he exited the stage. He was able to recover his balance, but his near stumble will likely delight the headline writers in the Conservative press.
    Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg endured a flurry of criticism for his decision back in 2010 to throw his centrist party into a coalition with the Conservatives. But he argued he had really had no choice because Britain was at the time wobbling badly and could have become the "next domino to fall" in the economic crisis.
    And he ridiculed claims by Cameron and Miliband that they still had a solid chance to win a majority in next week's election.
    "They need to go and lay down in the darkened room" if they believed that, he said.