Nick Clegg had another good debate. Perhaps not as stellar as last time but again he was very strong and there were real touches of Obama in his peroration and call for a politics that could be different and he ended witha real flourish. He did seem a little flustered at one point when the other two ganged up on him but ironically their aggression may work for him. He was particularly effective when dealing with his weakest subjects. He was very good in the immigration round but it is hard to know if his debating talents will compensate for the fact that he is pushing an unpopular policy – an amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is hard to see him losing much ground on this. There was nothing to stop his momentum and if anything he may have cemented his position. he will be pretty pleased tonight.
David Cameron was far better. In fact had he performed like this in the first debate he would probably not be in as much of a mess as he is now in the polls. He had more passion, more fight, more coherence in his arguments and yet avoided looking too aggressive. He did well on Afghanistan in particular, which makes him seem more prime ministerial. But most importantly he did not do anything that looks likely to reclaim the “change” mantle from Clegg and this may be a problem for him. Until his summing up I’d have scored him slightly ahead of Nick Clegg, but it was all a little Vera Lynn, more sunny uplands; we can all pull through together, Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Even so, he will have settled some Tory nerves – including his own.
You have to feel sorry for Gordon Brown. He was strong on the arguments and played the “I’m the only one who knows how the world works” line well. But you just sense that no-one is listening any more and that he slips to easily into jargon. Clegg swiped him mercilessly at one point when he said: “the lady asked about reform and you are talking about tax credits”. His obviously pre-cooked “Get real Nick” line (a faint echo of Ronald Reagan’s – there you go again swipe at Walter Mondale) will almost certainly fall flat with voters. Again he seemed too combative and too keen to go after the Liberal Democrat.
UPDATE: Contrary to my view the early polls have Gordon Brown doing better than he did last week. I still think it will not make a significant difference for him.
The debate itself was rather poor – you could just tell Sky was itching to get off foreign affairs. The Europe section demanded far more time and explanation but it was over before it had even begun. Again Clegg played his weaker hand well.
So overall, nothing that massively changes the game and the contest is still wide open but David Cameron may have reassured some of his wavering supporters.
MARKS OUT OF 10: immediately after the debate my instinct as to score it Cameron 7.5; Clegg 7 and Brown 6 – and that was what I said in my first version of this post. Thinking about this some more however, I think that’s not quite right and actually I’m going to reverse that to give Clegg 7.5 and Cameron 7. My reason is that there was nothing to arrest Clegg’s momentum and Cameron, for all his better performance, did not reclaim change from the Lib Dem leader. I think Cameron will have carved back some territory so the Tories will probably feel a bit better tonight but if the polls don’t move in his favour that pleasure may be short-lived.
Update: Interestingly the first post debate poll, from YouGov gives Cameron 36 per cent, Clegg 32, Brown 29.
ComRes/ITN tells a different story. It gives the debate to Nick Clegg on 33 with the other two tied on 30 per cent. It also puts the Lib Dems in the lead when people were asked their voting intention. But the lead over the Tories is 36 to 35 per cent as opposed to the other way round last week so within the margin for error that may not amount to much.