NICK Clegg was last night crowned as winner of the first televised leaders’ debate in British history.
According to instant national opinion polls, the Liberal Democrat leader won the public round with an impassioned appeal for a new kind of politics in the wake of the expenses crisis.
Gordon Brown, who adopted a more combative style than rivals, tried to present himself as the voice of authority and experience, although opinion polls ranked him last.
The Tory leader, who came second place in the polls, sounded a more positive note than the other party leaders, in a bid to get disaffected voters to engage with a lacklustre election campaign.
An instant YouGov poll for the Sun had Clegg as the clear winner, with a 51 per cent share of the vote, while Cameron came second on 29 per cent and Brown trailed well behind on 19 per cent.
Another, carried out by ComRes on behalf of ITV News, also put the Liberal Democrat leader well ahead on 43 per cent, with the Tory leader on 26 per cent and the Prime Minister last on 20 per cent.
In a the first of three lengthy 90-minute debates, the party leaders traded blows on immigration, public services, crime, the armed forces, the economy and the MPs’ expenses scandal.
Clegg’s tactic of portraying his opponents as “two old parties who have been taking it in turn to run things for years” appeared to chime with viewers, as did his confident but down-to-earth debating style.
He said: “We have a fantastic opportunity to do things differently for once. Because if we do things differently, we’ll be able to create the fair country we all want – fair taxes, better schools, an economy which isn’t held hostage by greedy bankers, and decent, open politics.”
Cameron scored an early victory with a heartfelt apology for the MPs’ expenses scandal, before trying to woo the electorate with a positive, upbeat vision.
“Britain can do much better, we can deal with the debts, we can get the economy going and get rid of the jobs tax and build a bigger society,” he said.
By far the most negative of the leaders, Brown focused his attacks on Cameron, accusing him of planning huge cuts in schools and policing.
“This is the defining year to get these decisions right now. Get the decisions wrong now and we could have a double-dip recession,” he said, as he sought to draw attention to his experience in government.
The Prime Minister tried in vain to club together with Clegg and build a social democrat alliance against Cameron, but the Lib Dem leader was uninterested in joining such a coalition.
Last night, the Tories were trying to manage expectations, arguing that Cameron had scored considerable victories on the NHS, MPs’ expenses and National Insurance.
Meanwhile, Labour Party sources insisted Brown had won on “substance”, although they conceded that his presentation skills were less good than Clegg or Cameron’s.
...as Liberal Democrats get boost in opinion polls
THERE is more good news for the Liberal Democrats today, who are four points up in the latest YouGov opinion poll for the Sun.
The poll, which was carried out shortly after the Lib Dems launched their election manifesto on Wednesday, puts the Tories on 37 per cent, down four points, with Labour on 31 per cent, down one, and the Lib Dems up to 22 per cent, an increase of four points.
If the figures were repeated at the general election, the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament and would likely have to try and broker some kind of coalition with the Lib Dems.
YouGov pollster Anthony Wells said the poll showed a “big jump” for the Lib?Dems at the expense of the Tories, although he said this was due to a “publicity boost from the Liberal Democrat manifesto launch”.
Meanwhile, a rapid response panel of City A.M. readers last night disagreed with national opinion polls and said Tory leader David Cameron had won the debate.
However, Cameron’s rating was just slightly higher than Nick Clegg’s, suggesting that they too thought the Lib leader had performed well.