Jim: 10.31pm: Okay, thanks very much for all the comments, feedback and emails. Looking forward to seeing you all again in a week’s time for the grand showdown. Thanks again.
Jim: 10.13pm: Don’t want to give you opinion poll fatigue but there’s one more worth showing you – here’s a link to it. Ipsos MORI (for Reuters) suggests that support for Lib Dems has doubled in marginal seats, from 11 per cent to 23 per cent. Interestingly, the party isn’t taking seats from either of the two main parties. Instead:
The Liberal Democrat gains have come almost completely from people who were not sure they would vote a fortnight ago and now say they are sure that they will.
Jim: 10.07pm: A thought about Gordon Brown. His team must be delighted (if ComRes is right) that he has held his own with Cameron. That was not predicted by anyone. But the three seem to be bunched closely together, still, which bodes ill for anyone who doesn’t want a hung Parliament.
Jim: 10.01pm: It gets worse for the Tories – although Ladbrokes is paying out on a Cameron debate victory, interestingly. hat-tip Sophy Ridge at News of the World:
While David Cameron claimed victory in the instant poll done by YouGov/The Sun, Nick Clegg has stolen the crown in a poll by ComRes/ITV. The Lib Dem leader clinched victory with 33 per cent of the vote, with Brown and Cameron neck and neck on 30 per cent. And a massive 36 per cent said they planned to vote Lib Dem after tonight’s debate – more than both the Tories and Labour.
Jim: 9.57pm: NEWSFLASH: Not such great news for Cameron – ComRes poll has Clegg in the lead; will give more details asap. (John Prescott is meanwhile Tweeting that the YouGov poll had Cameron ahead last week and turned out to be wrong). Meanwhile one of our readers reports that a Channel 4 survey looks good for Clegg:
Which leader has most impressed you so far? Vote now: http://ow.ly/1BTEX Current scores: Nick Clegg 66%, Gordon Brown 23% David Cameron 12%
Jim: 9.52pm: Want to see the spin room: looks more or less like this – courtesy of Alex’s mobile. (I believe the smooth-looking individual in the foreground is none other than Ben Brogan of the Telegraph).
Jim, 9.47pm: I don’t have confirmation of this yet but one of our readers (Zoomy Boy) says a YouGov poll has the three very close in terms of how the public thought the debate went; 36 per cent for Cameron, 32 per cent for Clegg and 29 per cent for Brown. If so that would be consistent with our prediction, I’d say. There will be delight in Conservative HQ if that is the case, no doubt about it. Yep, it’s confirmed (by the excellent John Rentoul).
Jim, 9.42pm: By the way, the Tories are sending out a stream of leaflets (via email) from Labour candidates in which they warn that the Conservatives would slash benefits for the elderly. I thought Cameron sounded particularly sincere when he challenged Brown to condemn this form of dirty electioneering. (I would put up some of the leaflets on the blog but time is short and I’m allergic to technology – apologies). Brown’s only response was to say he didn’t have anything to do with this.
Jim, 9.41pm: Ken Clarke said in the FT this morning that “we should not be judging our future PM on the colour of the tie they were wearing”.
True. Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. But I did think that Brown picked a particularly natty red tie for this evening’s outfit. Does that make me shallow?
Jim, 9.39pm: An afterthought. Cameron did mention “Big Society”, right at the end of his summing up – and there was an earlier chunk of him telling people to take responsibility for their lives. Interesting that he hasn’t abandoned a theme that some people have found, er, a little baffling. One of our readers has suggested that DC came third and is metaphorically “dead”. Not sure that washes; if anything I suspect that he has clawed back considerable ground against Clegg.
Jim, 9.33pm: The spinning has begun. All three parties will now try to tell you who won. They will be telling you directly that their man won; telling journalists that their man won in the hope of influencing tomorrow’s headlines. Can’t wait to see the first post-debate poll.
Meanwhile here are a few thoughts on what we did we not learn tonight from any of the three (unless I missed them):
When will the UK finally pull out of Afghanistan?
How much of a threat is Iran to our security?
What is the Lib Dem policy on the euro?
Does Cameron really think that China is a threat to global security?
Jim, 9.26: Summing up time – will they all admit that massive cuts in public sector spending are on the way, and that this will dominate the next Parliament? Fat chance:
Brown: Says he has responsibility on his shoulders re Afghanistan. Says Labour will be strong on defence. Begs for no one to put economic recovery at risk (sound familiar?).
Cameron: Talks about clean break, Tories being “best placed” to solve the UK’s problems. Still playing the change card that Clegg tried to snatch from him. Secure borders. Strong defences. Great country with best days ahead of it – strong positive theme. (Although Iain Dale reckons ‘not as good as last week’).
Clegg: Britain can shape the world around it by doing things differently. Something exciting is beginning to happen. Hope. Change. etc etc.
Alex: Massive crowd around David Miliband, who has started spinning. Debate hasn’t finished yet. You can tell what the journalists’ priorities are.
Robert 9.25: You have to admire Clegg. Immigration is a very weak hand for him but he’s gone on the offensive and is actually dominating this question. I’d love to see the worm on this one. If it were a debating contest you’d give it to him but he is still telling people what they don’t want to hear.
Robert 9.20: Immigration: Clegg is talking well about the “shambles” of the system. “Don’t live in denial about what is going on”. But Brown has whacked him over the Lib Dem policy of granting an amnesty to illegal immigrants, he argues that the amnesty just leads to an increase in illegal immigration. Cameron too joins in to knock it. Clegg is playing this weak hand well though. But as with everything else in this debate there is often a disconnect between the soundest argument and the voter reaction. Clegg to Brown: “So what are you going to do about the people who are here? You can’t deport 900,000 people you don’t know where they live”.
Jim: 9.17pm: Anecdote watch. We haven’t had very many this time around – you may remember that the first debate was laden with “I met a black man in Plymouth” etc; which is the US way. This time I’ve only counted a couple. Clegg met some mechanics who had been in, I think, Afghanistan. Cameron had been jogging with a soldier. Otherwise, they’re not ladelling it on.
Jim: 9.16pm: Email arrives from Tory headquarters: GB says: “when I became Prime Minister … we brought people in from business”…Labour Failure: They all left. Stephen Carter, Digby Jones.
Jim 9.14pm: Okay, readers, what do you think? Who’s winning. Anyone? No one? I have to admit – I haven’t the faintest idea. Being a pundit felt somewhat easier one week ago.
Robert 9.15: Clegg showing exasperation with Gordon Brown. “If you care so much about creating a new economy out of the rubble of this recession why won’t you reform the banking system”. Cameron – nicely – “you can see a problem with a hung parliament – there is quite a lot of bickering going on already”.
Robert: 9.10: The question is whether in a time of crisis a coalition would be a good thing. David Cameron says no, Nick Clegg says yes, Gordon Brown says … er.. no. Cameron then turns this into a debate on his plans to reduce spending now and cut National Insurance contributions – or the jobs tax as he calls it. According to DC the “jobs tax” is the biggest threat to the recovery – which really is something of an overstatement. Brown – you are a risk to the recovery just as Nick as a risk to our security.
Alex: 9.06: Anyone watching this under the age of 50 should be watching their wallets. The grey vote is incredibly important in this election and all the candidates love to play up to pensioner concerns. Cameron’s pledge on all the benefits for the over 60s — free tv licenses, bus passes, winter fuel payments, pension credit, attendance allowance etc — sounds wonderful. But it protects more than £25bn of annual government expenditure as we enter one an era where every bit of government spending will be cut back. If the next government doesn’t take it from pensioners, the Treasury axe men be coming for young people, particularly if they work in the public sector.
Pensioner asks for more money. Everybody promises to cough up immediately. No mention of 12 per cent budget deficit. Sorry if that sounds heartless.
Jim 9.04: The last 10 minutes or so has been entirely focussed on care for the elderly. Perhaps, dare I say it, in the knowledge that pensioners are more likely to vote than young whippersnappers. No one is admitting the truth about the next Parliament; that it will be dominated by Britain’s enormous deficit, and that CUTS are imminent. Instead it’s all about who can promise the most on winter fuel payments, eye tests, care and so on. The debate is not reflecting the fiscal reality, alas.
Robert 9.03: Very snappy exchange. Cameron accusing Brown of scaremongering and lies for saying in Labour leaflets that the Tories would scrap free eye tests. Brown – David has not said he will keep free eye tests. Cameron – “Well I’ll do it now. Will you withdraw the leaflets.” And meanwhile Nick Clegg pops in again with his look-at-these-two-ferrets-in-a-sack approach.
Robert 8.58: So a half-time verdict.
They have all learned the lessons of last week. Cameron is more up for it and sounds more decisive; Clegg is working his best lines again and Brown is being less overtly aggressive when going on the attack. But Nick Clegg is looking strong again – the attacks on his policies are not really denting him while Gordon Brown seems too combative. David Cameron seems to be doing better – I’d put him and Clegg ahead. I doubt Nick Clegg is losing any support he picked up last week but suspect Cameron is winning back some doubters. Cameron pushed the “big society” more forcefully and his lines about how we raise our children and restore discipline in our schools are probably well aimed at voters. Gordon Brown is still picking at details from the manifestos of the other parties – of course he’s right to be doing this but don’t think it is necessarily working.
Jim: 8.53: Cameron is removing the moral high ground from Clegg by pointing out that all parties suffered in the expenses scandal. Even cake tins, says the Tory leader – a specific swipe at one of Mr Clegg’s unfortunate claims. Clegg’s response: “No one is blemish free”….not sure if that will wash with the public.
Jim, 8.52: Great line from Nick Clegg against the PM: “Poor Mary asked about reforming politics and you’re talking about tax credits.” Ouch.
Gideon Rachman wraps up on the international affairs part of the debate:
The foreign affairs bit is over. I don’t think anyone “won” or said anything particularly startling. Cameron isolated on Europe but I think that could help him; clegg isolated on nukes, less helpful to him, I think. Brown played experience card effctively.
Jim, 8.50: A sports interlude….Liverpool are losing one-nil at half time.
Alex in Bristol, 8.49: Spin Alert from Labour: “Clegg has more policy content than Cameron. Latter doesn’t have so much to say. GB in a different league of course.”
Jim 8.48: Am keeping half an eye on the Twitter feed.
Eric Pickles, Tory chair, is wondering when Clegg will mention his “love of the euro”.
David Miliband is claiming that Brown is doing brilliantly: “GB big vision”. Very loyal indeed.
Robert 8.43: So we are off international affairs and now into renewing democracy. Good territory for Nick Clegg this. He’s coming back into his stride now – even if we’ve heard some of these lines before. Now Gordon Brown is also rolling out the lines we heard last week, playing up the future at risk. Cameron has leapt into expenses which played well for him last week – “everywhere I go in this country is the simmering anger just below the surface” and he is talking straight to camera. None of them look as relaxed this time – they all realise the stakes.
Jim: 8.35: Gordon just accused Nick Clegg of “anti-Americanism”: we predicted this, but I’m not sure it will wash with the public. Clegg is saying “it shouldn’t be a one-way street”: neat riposte. Then again, Clegg’s attack on Brown on climate change – suggesting he was useless at Copenhagen – is vastly unfair, given how much political capital the PM put into those talks. Meanwhile they’re both attacking Cameron for his partnership in Europe: when will he point out that Labour and the Lib Dems both have some peculiar friends on the continent?
Robert 8.33: Gordon Brown has said we must end our addiction to oil. So Nick Clegg cites Barack Obama and Gordon Brown quotes from George Bush
Robert 8.30: Gordon has just said it again “let’s get real Nick”. As a debating point, it’s good but wonder if the ganging up on Clegg is actually going to be counter-productive. The Lib Dem leader is getting a bit flustered by it but not sure it’s working. Brown seems to be going for Clegg more than David Cameron is. They are onto climate change now and again Mr Brown is after Nick Clegg over his refusal to support nuclear power.
Alex in Bristol: 8.27: The audience may be banned from clapping or laughing. But the hacks in the spin room certainly aren’t. A big cheer went up for Clegg’s “size does matter” line. Brown’s awkward smile before the “you’re like my two young kids squabbling” line. Thought Cleggs response — “that was well rehearsed” — was a pretty nifty reply. The worm was not happy with the Get Real from Gordon. Real dip, which bounced back as soon as Clegg started to reply. The hacks sounded unimpressed too. A big “oooooh” went up in the press room.
View from the expert: Gideon Rachman
Surprisingly substantial debate on Europe. Brown paints effective picture of an isolated Cameron; Clegg surprisingly open in his pro-Europeanism; I suspect Cameron’s Euroscepticism will go over well. Brown line comparing the other two to his kids, too obviously pre-cooked.
Jim 8.26: Clegg had a good line when he cited Barack Obama in terms of how military capabilities have to change to respond to a post-Cold War world. But he also looked very rattled when Gordon Brown told him to “get real”. We’re not quite so impressed with him this week – but that could reflect a] last week’s expectations were low and b] the other two weren’t targeting him so much then.
Robert 8.22: Ok we are onto Afghanistan and future deployments. Also time to offer first thoughts on how it is going. Gordon Brown is taking the high road of being the statesman who actually knows how the world works. It’s pretty solid and his references to terror threats in other countries like Yemen and Somalia is designed to give the sense of someone who has experience. It’s not exciting but it is strong. Gordon on the Lib Dem policy to scrap Trident. “I have to deal with these decisions every day and I say to you Nick – get real”. Cameron: I thought Id’ never utter these words but I agree with Gordon”. A very effective ganging up on Clegg on Trident. David Cameron making some good points here talking about Afghanistan and getting the political strategy right, having an exit strategy and talking with some sense about the different tribal tensions in Afghanistan. I think Cameron is doing pretty well here; he is much more focused.
Alex in Bristol: 8.19: Is there a worm? None of the journalists have one in the Sky room. How will the journalists know what to think?
View from the expert: Gideon Rachman
Brown’s opening statement almost revels in his unpopularity; Cameron fluent until he starts sloganising: Clegg reference to his Mum being freed by British soldiers is effort to defuse the anti-Brit slur. Europe question phrased in way that helpful to Clegg. It asks should we pull out, and all leaders have to reject that – blurring the differences between them.
Alex in Bristol: 8.16: This is a much smaller studio than the first debate. Someone who has been in there told me it felt very cramped — and worryingly for the candidates — quite hot. Unlike the US debates, there is no dedicated air conditioner for each podium. So the only thing stopping some beads of prime ministerial sweat emerging is the special make up that Sky use (HD ready apparently). Not sure if bookies are offering a bet on a perspiring candidate, but if they are I’d probably go with Cameron. He sometimes goes a bit red in press conferences.
Robert 8.14: Clegg to Cameron: How does it hep anyone in Britain by joining with a bunch of “nutters”. Brown is now trying the on high route: _ These two remind me of my two young boys squabbling at bathtime. (Any suggestions on who dreamt up that one? Good line though).
Robert 8.11: Clegg is now saying let’s address the fundamental point – in or out is the only real issue. Gordon brown is already going into some political jargon – repatriate powers from the social chapter, the European Peoples Party – it’s not that he hasn’t got valid points but its such a clunky style.
Jim 8.09: Cameron on strong ground by claiming a Tory government wouldn’t give away powers to Europe. But Clegg came straight in with the point about Cameron failing to keep his promise on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Good, strong debate. Brown now steps in with typically clunky language about “repatriating the social chapter”; he’s taken the same side as Clegg, ie the pro-European one.
Robert 8.08: First question on Europe and Cameron is straight in with his key soundbite “I want to be in Europe not run by Europe”. His looking a lot punchier and pumped up that last week. Clegg is also up for the fight however: The EU is not perfect but we are stronger in it. He’s well aware of the problems of Europe so he won’t be misty-eyed about it. Gordon also following the script: “I’ve been in these meetings” David’s policy will put us in an empty chair position in Europe.
Jim: 8.04: Clegg is third, mentions climate change, says that Lib Dems didn’t back the Iraq invasion (as we anticipated) and in effect rebutted this morning’s “Nazi” headline in the Mail by saying his mother was a prisoner in a Japanese camp.
Jim: 8.03: David Cameron follows, looking directly into the camera, looking less uncomfortable than last time – if it’s not just my imagination. There’s a bit more fighting spirit in his eyes as he talks about his “new team” and bringing change. Not an awful lot of specifics on foreign policy.
Robert 8.01: Gordon kicks off saying this is not a popularity contest. If it’s about style then I’m not your guy but if you want delivery “I’m your man”. “Like me or not I can deliver”. This is the strategy – you may not like me but I’m the only one who can do the job. Incidentally he also asks for a clear Labour majority – that’s almost a first this week.
Jim 8pm: They’re off. Curious backdrop – a kind of broken up Union Jack. Robert points out that the lecterns are quite big, showing less of the three individuals. Brown in red tie this time, not pink.
Jim 7.59pm: Oh dear, too much hype for Nick Clegg. “Can he make this another stellar performance,” asks Sky.
Jim 7.55pm It’s also a big moment for Sky, given that the last debate (on ITV) had about 10m viewers. The consensus in the broadcasting industry is that Sky news events typically get about 50,000 viewers (no doubt someone from the corporation will now disagree with this). This propels them into a totally different league. Apparently Sky lost the toss of the coin twice (on the topic and on who went first or last). Not sure they’ll care too much though.
Robert 7.53pm: My tip for the most used phrase of the evening. “Actually I don’t agree with Nick…”
Robert 7.50pm: Unfortunately we are only watching this on normal Sky-tv not in HD so alas cannot see “every bead of sweat”. Have still not understood why watching David Cameron sweat for 90 mins is considered enticing. Sounds like an argument for radio. More Sky presenters interviewing each other as the minutes tick away.
Jim 7.43pm: So what are the strengths and weaknesses of the three candidates on foreign affairs?
Clegg will be open to accusations of being pro-euro and pro-Brussels in general; his trump card is the fact that the Lib Dems voted against the Iraq invasion. He may also accuse the other two of being poodles of Washington.
Cameron is open to criticism of his partners in the European Parliament; but his Euroscepticism is a vote-winner in much of the country. He will also be taken to task for bracketing China with Iran as a threat to international peace during last Thursday’s debate.
Brown will talk endlessly about international treaties and global co-operation on financial regulation; the others will criticise him over alleged failings in providing helicopters to Iraq.
Jim 7.40pm: Worth mentioning that a new YouGov/Sun poll is already out for tomorrow morning, it shows the Lib Dems back in third place, albeit still at a very strong 28 per cent. The Tories are apparently at 34 per cent and Labour at 29 per cent.
Robert 7.38pm: Alastair Campbell is now pontificating. Surprisingly he thinks “Gordon will be very strong tonight”.
Robert 7.35pm: The really odd thing about this election is that it’s the most exciting and interesting of my adult life and yet there is very little actually happening in it. Essentially there’s an agenda-setting debate and then a week looking at its effect and waiting for the next one.
Jim 7.33pm: Of course tonight’s theme is international affairs. That won’t stop them trying to veer off in other directions. Gordon will try and drag the debate back on to the economy (how I saved the world). Cameron will try and talk about his Big Society, to make up for the omission last week.
Robert 7.31pm: Sky’s coverage has been something to behold. Every few minutes one of the presenters interviews another about what they are doing. There’s been almost no political coverage all day just back-slapping.
Jim 7.28pm: Yes, I can’t help wondering whether Cameron needs to put some clear water between himself and some of this morning’s anti-Clegg articles. It’s not that the pieces were entirely wrong; it’s more that their cumulative effect is to look like the big boys are ganging up on the little guy – and there is a danger of martyring him. I can already imagine tomorrow’s headlines and they’re pretty bad for the Lib Dem leader. “Nick Clegg Ate My Hamster” is one. “Clegg Nazi Memorabilia Found On The Moon” is another.
Robert Shrimsley 7.24pm The Tory hardliners have been working themselves into a lather in advance of this debate, writing poison about Nick Clegg on Twitter and on blogs. Following the lead from the Tory press which gave him a monstering this morning. Their fury at the Cameron non-engagement strategy is quite something but then they are more afraid of a coalition than he is. Of course it’s very handy for Cameron to have other people doing his dirty work but you have to wonder how helpful it is to the Conservatives to be reinforcing their nasty image at this time.
Jim Pickard 7.21pm: The countdown has begun. This time a week ago we had no idea how much of an impact the three televised debates would have on the election campaign. That has changed dramatically. Some have criticised it as an X-Factor style talent contest. Others have praised it as such. But there’s no doubt; television has transformed the race. With half an hour to go before the second debate the tension in the three party camps is palpable. Robert Shrimsley (ft.com editor) and I are in place. We’ll hear more from Alex in Bristol in due course.