Ed Miliband and Jeremy Paxman
A poll found Ed Miliband had lost the contest but Labour praised their leader for a strong performanceGetty

David Cameron may have won the first pre-election TV contest but Labour are confident that the public saw "the real Ed Miliband" for the first time.

The leaders faced separate grillings from veteran interviewer Jeremy Paxman, who quizzed the pair on a wide range of issues, including immigration, the UK's membership of the European Union (EU) and the NHS.

A poll by ICM for The Guardian, which surveyed more than 1,000 viewers, concluded that the Tory leader won the Channel 4/Sky News contest with 54% of the vote, against Miliband's 46%.

But Lucy Powell, Labour's campaign chief, praised her boss and argued that Miliband came across "much more strongly" than the Prime Minister.

"What you saw last night is for the first time, the public got to see the real Ed Miliband – Ed Miliband unmediated by sections of the press who are out to get him and want to portray him as something that he isn't," she told BBC Breakfast.

"Last night was an opportunity for the public to see the real Ed Miliband and they liked that Ed Miliband and he came across much more strongly than Cameron and I think he proved a lot of people wrong last night."

Paxman grills Cameron and Miliband - highlightsIBTimes UK

But the Tories were adamant that their leader had won the contest and denied that Cameron made a slow start to proceedings.

"I thought the Prime Minister seemed like a man who has got a plan for this country," said Grant Shapps, the chairman of the Conservative Party.

Shapps, who has recently been caught up in controversy over his "Michael Green" marketing persona, also argued that Cameron "put on a strong performance".

The TV contest was the first of four which will take place before the general election on 7 May.

The latest opinion poll from Panelbase, which was conducted between 24 and 26 March, put Labour and the Tories neck-and-neck (34% vs 34%).

The study, of more than 1,000 voters, also put Ukip on 15%, the Greens on 6% and the Liberal Democrats on 5%.