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Politics

Here's Everything You Need To Know About The Election Debates

On your marks, get set...

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Tonight is the first seven-way TV election debate in British political history.

But to be honest, with so many people on the screen, it's going to be hard even for seasoned political journalists to keep track of who's attacking whose long-term economic plan, or who's calling for more powers and less austerity for their particular part of Britain.

To help you out, BuzzFeed News has produced this handy guide to the seven people on screen in the order they'll be standing and speaking in – who they are, how they're doing, and what they hope to get out of the evening.

The debate starts at 8pm on ITV, and will be hosted by Julie Etchingham (above). There will be four broad topics, each taking up half an hour of screen time, and within each section, each of the seven will get to have their say. Then there will be a general discussion, or rather a general lunging for David Cameron's throat.

So let's meet the contenders...

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Who she is

Leader of the Green party, Australian immigrant, not Caroline Lucas.

How she's doing

Well, things were going great until she endured one of the worst political interviews in living memory (she blamed a head cold). As a result, the "Green surge" has petered out, with the party falling back to just over 5% in the polls.

What she's hoping for tonight

In short, Natmania. The idea is that if she seems fresh enough, and different enough, from the boring men in suits, the Greens will capture enough voters from disillusioned Labour supporters (especially students) to become a real electoral force.

What she wants to talk about

Saving the NHS, building better homes, making Britain healthier, happier, greener and above all fairer.

What she doesn't want to talk about

How any of it's going to actually be implemented – or paid for.

What she wants you to think

"She seems like a real breath of fresh air – and much more genuine than that Ed Miliband."

What she doesn't want you to think

"She's not a patch on Caroline Lucas, is she?"

Who he is

Nick Clegg! The Cleggster! Formerly Britain's sweetheart, then its deputy prime minister and general punching bag.

How he's doing

Um…how to put this kindly? The polls have consistently suggested a Lib Dem apocalypse, their disgruntled anti-Tory supporters having drained away to other parties. The latest polls suggest that even Clegg's own seat could be at risk, though take that with a pinch of salt.

What he's hoping for tonight

That we remember why we liked him in the first place. Expect calm, decent, sensible Nick, pitching himself as an alternative to the extremism of the two main parties.

What he wants to talk about

Mental health, mansion taxes, why you just can't trust Ed Miliband and David Cameron.

What he doesn't want to talk about

Tuition fees, European referendums, which of his feuding deputies will get his job after the election.

What he wants you to think

"He's not so bad, is he? And our local MP's a Lib Dem and he's done a good job, so I might as well stick with them."

What he doesn't want you to think

"Now I remember why I hated him."

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Who he is

To some he's cheeky old Nigel, friend of the people and Westminster's worst nightmare. To others, he's Enoch Powell with a pint glass.

How he's doing

The "People's Army" of UKIP are marching on, but they're not attracting many more supporters. For Farage, the game is mostly about preventing his new converts from returning to the Tories to ward off an Ed Miliband premiership, solidifying his second-place status in Labour strongholds in the north, and hopefully picking up a few seats into the bargain.

What he's hoping for tonight

That he repeats his performance when he took on Nick Clegg over Europe – chummy, funny, anti-establishment, and able to shrug off the slings and arrows of the big parties.

What he wants to talk about

Immigration, Europe, how the big parties are all the same, immigration, and immigration.

What he doesn't want to talk about

His party's various scandals, how he can keep both the Labour and Tory working classes onside, what happens if he doesn't win a seat himself.

What he wants you to think

"He's like Thatcher and Clarkson rolled into one."

What he doesn't want you to think

"He's funny, but it's still safer to vote Tory."

Who he is

Labour leader, people's champion, not his brother David.

How he's doing

Two words: bacon sandwich. Ed's had some better press recently, surviving Paxo's grilling with barely a dent, but he remains his own party's biggest problem – apart from the fact that many of the traditional supporters he was relying on are flirting with the Greens, the SNP, and even UKIP.

What he's hoping for tonight

A repeat of the last time. Even if he doesn't look prime-ministerial, he'll settle for not looking actively unsuited to the role. Plus, the more hits he can land on Dave as a friend of the rich, the better.

What he wants to talk about

The NHS, food banks, Tory toffs, the rich vs the rest.

What he doesn't want to talk about

Bacon sandwiches, the deficit, public spending, the last government's record.

What he wants you to think

"Actually, he's kinda growing on me."

What he doesn't want you to think

"You can't exactly see him facing down Putin, can you?"

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Who she is

Head of Plaid Cymru, socialist republican, complete unknown.

How she's doing

Leanne who? UKIP, the SNP, the Greens – all the other smaller parties have had their time in the limelight, but there's been no surge of excitement whatsoever about poor old Plaid. Even they were a bit surprised to be invited to the debates.

What she's hoping for tonight

Just imagine someone repeating the lyrics to "Lose Yourself" in their head, again and again. This is Wood's one shot, her one chance to actually make an impression. No one knows anything about her, so she's a complete blank slate. If she generates a real sense of excitement, Plaid might – might – just do to Labour in Wales what the SNP are doing to Labour in Scotland.

What she wants to talk about

Why Wales needs the same powers as Scotland, why Wales wants less austerity, and why the evil Tories in London have been riding roughshod over the rest of the nation.

What she doesn't want to talk about

How it's going to be paid for, why people shouldn't just vote for Labour instead, why UKIP is outpolling Plaid in its own backyard.

What she wants you to think

"Now that one I like."

What she doesn't want you to think

"Who invited the supply teacher?"

Who she is

Leader of the SNP, scourge of the union, happiest woman in Britain.

How she's doing

How many ways can you say "spectacular"? Predictions that the SNP will win 50 or so of the 59 seats at Westminster may have been a bit premature, but it's certainly set for a huge improvement on its current six seats – and on current polls, is likely to be able to name its price if Ed Miliband wants to form a government that lasts.

What she's hoping for tonight

On the one hand, to remind Scottish voters that they don't like Ed Miliband, don't like the Tories, and trust the SNP to get them a better deal. On the other, to persuade English voters that she's not the devil incarnate.

What she wants to talk about

The evilness of the Tories, the wickedness of austerity, why Trident should be scrapped, when Scotland's going to get the extra powers it was promised.

What she doesn't want to talk about

How much money Scotland gets from England, how she and Alex Salmond are getting on, the oil price.

What she wants you to think

"She actually seems pretty sensible."

What she doesn't want you to think

"That Salmond bloke was funnier."

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Who he is

Prime minister of the United Kingdom, leader of the Conservative party, living embodiment of the British ruling elite.

How he's doing

Not as well as he wanted. The Tories' hope was that as the economy improved and people were faced with the possibility of Ed Miliband actually becoming PM, they would pull away in the polls. Instead, they're only a point or so ahead.

What he's hoping for tonight

Ideally, to float above the fray as a noble statesman as his rivals scrap for attention. But realistically, tonight's about damage limitation. Not many voters are suddenly going to realise after five years that they really like him after all; it's more about ensuring that he looks like the most prime-ministerial of a bad bunch.

What he wants to talk about

The economy, Labour's record, Ed Miliband's worrying left-wing tendencies, how he's cut the deficit while safeguarding NHS funding.

What he doesn't want to talk about

His donors, his social circles, his actual NHS reforms, why so many of his voters like the look of Nigel Farage.

What he wants you to think

"I may not like everything he stands for, but he does look the part, doesn't he?"

What he doesn't want you to think

"Five more years of old Gammonface? No thanks."

Robert Colvile is UK News Director at BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Robert Colvile at robert.colvile@buzzfeed.com.

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