The Tory leader was under immense pressure to up his game after delivering a lacklustre performance in last week’s debate, which was dominated by a strong showing from Liberal Democrat rival Nick Clegg.
An instant YouGov poll for the Sun suggested that Cameron won the debate – but only just, scoring 36 per cent against 32 per cent for Clegg and 29 per cent for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
But an average of all five post-debate polls put Clegg and Cameron neck and neck on 33 per cent, with Brown close behind on 27 per cent.
In the second of three lengthy 90-minute debates, the leaders traded blows on Europe, the war in Afghanistan, climate change and the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Cameron struggled in the first half, failing to land any direct hits on his rivals, who both supported the unpopular decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum.
But the Tory leader piled pressure on Brown later in the contest, accusing him of scaremongering by sending out alarmist leaflets to pensioners.
And he managed to win some laughs by reiterating his opposition to a hung parliament, quipping “you can see one of the problems with a hung parliament and coalition-forming is there is quite a lot of bickering going on already.”
Clegg failed to repeat last week’s barnstorming performance, but instant opinion polls suggested the surge in support for the Lib Dem leader is unlikely to fizzle out.
Dismissing allegations that he acted improperly by receiving party donations in his personal bank account as “total rubbish”, Clegg insisted that his party had emerged from the expenses crisis relatively unscathed.
On Europe, the Lib Dem leader said he wanted a “a referendum on the fundamental issue, do we stay in or do we go out,” although pollsters said his plans to scrap Trident did not go down with well with voters.
Brown, who began the debate saying “if it’s PR you’re after, count me out”, put in a better performance than last week but still trailed his rivals in the post-debate polls.
He ended well with a statesman-like closing speech that claimed “the buck stops here” and pointed to his experience as chancellor and Prime Minister.
But he was by turns fidgety and wooden during the debate itself, and opened himself up to accusations of dishonesty by saying he did not authorise alarmist campaign leaflets attacking the Tories.
Today’s YouGov poll for the Sun has the Conservatives in the lead on 34 per cent, with Labour in second place on 29 per cent and the Lib Dems on 28 per cent – the first time they have been in third place since last week’s debate. If repeated at a general election there would be a hung party with Labour as the biggest party, meaning Brown would likely try to forge some kind of Lab-Lib coalition.
Labour caught up in row over alarmist leaflets
LABOUR WAS last night accused of scaremongering to win the election, after it sent out campaign leaflets warning the Tories would scrap help for the sick and elderly.
Gordon Brown came under fire over the alarmist tactics during last night’s televised leaders’ debate, when he was grilled over campaign literature which claims the Conservatives will ditch free bus passes and eye tests for the over-65s.
“Why have you not withdrawn those leaflets?” the Tory leader asked. Brown replied: “I did not authorise those leaflets?”
But the Tories pointed to a party political broadcast that must have been signed off by Brown. In it, an old age pensioner says: “The Tories are even threatening to do away with my free TV licence and the free bus pass.”
The Conservative party said Labour had handed out “thousands” of leaflets that make similar claims, including one produced by Brown’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS) John Trickett.
“If you are a pensioner you could lose your winter fuel allowance, free travel, eye test, swimming, TV licence and passport... and your pension credit,” the leaflet says.