The Lib Dem leader was the man to beat in this debate, and it’s really touch and go as to who won, Clegg or Cameron. I thought Clegg was particularly weak on Trident, which surprised me, as he was unable to give any idea as to the alternative to Trident, or even a solid committment to keeping Britain a nuclear power. At least he wasn’t as ludicrous as one of his MPs who later claimed, in the post debate spinning, that Britain could give up all her nuclear weapons, but like Japan, have the ability to build one if it needed! Paddy Ashdown put up a much more solid show, suggesting that Trident at least be debated as part of a defence review, which is eminently sensible. On the plus side, although I’m not sure it will win him any votes, he was very good on immigration, outlining a balanced plan for amnesty which is not as half baked as it originally sounded. He also had the one genuine zinger spur of the moment line: ” You can’t deport 900,000 people. We don’t know where they live!” His remark about not being a Man of Faith, something which would kill you in a US debate, was quite refreshing, and will do him little harm. There is an atheist, or at least, secular, vote out there, you know. His promise of an In/Out referendum on the EU will have eurosceptic voters intrigued, and make the Tories uneasy. Clegg has kept this a three way race, which he will be happy with, even if the dizzy heights of Cleggmania are now receding.
Cameron was good and continues to look like a prime minister. On Europe, he was quite balanced, and will be pleased with a well rounded performance. He seemed to get genuinely angry (not a bad thing) about the Labour leaflets accusing him of wanting to cut the winter fuel allowance, but then got into that parliamentary “withdraw!” type language that sounds archaic on television, whereas his on-the-spot pledge not to cut the allowance was good but I think missed by the audience.
The prize for best improved performance must go to Gordon Brown, who came across much more comfortable than last time. He still struggles to shoehorn (So clumsily as to be almost endearing) prepared “jokes” (Like the reference to his sons.) into his speech, and tends to waffle a bit on technical details, and referring to the woman asking about the pension (£59 per week? Surely not. In Ireland it’s €200) as “woman” was laugh out loud funny. But he did come across as a serious player for serious times, so his people will be happy.
I’m still saying a Conservative majority, and Lib Dems lucky to keep their existing seats, despite an increased vote.