Round two of the TV leadership debate last night came from Bristol, and rather like a group’s difficult second album it was rather less exciting that the first. A relatively modest 4m viewers compares not so favourably with the near-10m audience for the first.
All three leaders were much more evenly matched than before, Cameron seeming more confident and assured and Brown adopting a canny ‘Like me or not, I’m your man’ approach. There were but a few points in it according to the post-debate polls, although most agreed than Brown was the loser.
Of course, after his barnstorming performance first time around, it was LibDem leader Nick Clegg who had the most to lose. And indeed, he suffered rather more at the hands of rivals alive to his threat this time, and who didn’t hesitate to put the boot in over the LibDems plan to scrap Trident, and their Euro-enthusiasm.
Brown told him the ‘Get real’ over Trident while Cameron said that the country needed a leader who would ‘stand up for our interests’ in Europe. The Tory leader pinched a few of Clegg’s ‘candidate for change’ lines, and rather obviously prefaced a few of his answers with ‘If I were your Prime Minister,’ presumably in an effort to sound more statesmanlike.
But Clegg managed to stand up to the onslaught reasonably well, despite moments where some of the LibDem policies began to wither under fire, and managed to sneak in a few jabs of his own, especially over Iraq. But no killer blows were landed by any of the three pugilists.
So it’s pretty much steady as she goes for now – each leader managed to do just about what was required to consolidate their positions, but none managed to convincingly break away from the pack.
It is perhaps David Cameron who will be breathing the biggest sigh of relief this morning, having saved his own bacon - for the time being at least. A repeat of his hesitant and detached performance from the first debate would have been a disaster for the Tories.
With the opinion polls still firmly in hung parliament territory and two weeks to go until election day, it’s still all to play for. Next week’s final session on the economy promises to be make or break stuff, and should make a fascinating political spectacle. Bring it on.
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