After credits rolled, battle moved on to 'spin alley'

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Indy Politics

It was always going to be difficult for the army of political spinners involved in last night's debate to predict the outcome. But not even the most imaginative Tory aide would have imagined that less than two hours after the cameras stopped rolling, George Osborne would be giggling away at a Tory attack advert depicting Gordon Brown as Little Britain's most annoying teenager, Vicky Pollard.

During the debate, it had seemed that the other parties had decided he was the main target for the evening. Team Cameron ridiculed his comments on improving the European Union. Labour HQ chose to go for him over his opposition to nuclear energy.

But after the final whistle, Chris Huhne said: "I thought Nick Clegg was the winner. He showed the conviction that people expected. That's my hunch."

Then the news that it was Mr Cameron that had topped a YouGov instant poll – news distributed by the Tories. "I'm not at all surprised," said Liam Fox. Neither was George Osborne. "I thought it was a really strong performance." Moments later, two other polls declared Mr Clegg the winner. CCHQ was not so helpful in relaying that information.