Election 2010: TV debate

Clegg smashes through two-party system

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Nick Clegg broke the duopoly in British politics with a strong performance in last night’s historic first televised election debate between the three main party leaders.

The Liberal Democrat leader seized the moment by matching Gordon Brown and David Cameron blow for blow during 90 minutes of lively exchanges which confounded expectations that the 76 strict rules of engagement would produce a sterile discussion.

A ComRes poll for ITV News found that 43 per cent of viewers believed Mr Clegg won the debate, well ahead of Mr Cameron on 26 per cent and Mr Brown on 20 per cent. A YouGov survey for The Sun gave the Lib Dem leader an even bigger margin of victory – 51 per cent, with the Tory leader on 29 per cent and the Prime Minister on 19 per cent.

Bookmakers immediately cut their odds on a hung parliament and even a Lib Dem victory.

Lord [Paddy] Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, said the public had seen the "real Nick Clegg" for the first time. "He walked away with it,” he said. "This debate has shown the Nick Clegg the House of Commons refuses to allow people to see with their bullying and their shouting. For the first time we now have the public able to see the real Nick Clegg and they love it."

Although all three parties inevitably claimed victory afterwards, Mr Clegg’s relaxed, confident and passionate performance raised hopes among the Lib Dems that Britain had finally entered a new era of three-party politics. Last night’s debate in Manchester, screened live on ITV, came 50 years after the first US presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy. It offered a unique opportunity for Britain’s third party to compete on an equal footing with Labour and the Tories and Mr Clegg took it.

Mr Cameron, ahead in the opinion polls and seen as the most polished TV performer, had the most to lose last night – and Labour and the Lib Dems claimed he had indeed done so. Ironically, he was first to propose the leaders’ debates.

Labour sources insisted Mr Brown had exposed the Tories’ failure to match Labour’s pledges on police numbers and schools spending. The Tories claimed Mr Cameron had proved he was ready to be prime minister, saying he was “personal, direct and in command”. They said the Prime Minister had been too aggressive.

The three leaders referred to each other by their first names and there was no knock-out blow or disastrous gaffe. But that did not prevent fierce clashes over issues such as economy, MPs’ expenses and immigration.

Mr Cameron claimed that immigration was “out of control” and called for numbers entering the country every year to be brought down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. The Prime Minister retorted: “I don’t like these words, because we are bringing it under control.” He condemned Tory plans to impose an annual cap on migrant numbers as “arbitrary”.

Mr Clegg also condemned the Tory proposals, but accused both the other parties of “talking tough about immigration, but delivering chaos”.

The Prime Minister agreed with Mr Clegg over the need for electoral reform, pointing to his plans to hold referendums on changing the voting system and replacing the Lords with a directly-elected chamber. Mr Clegg fired back: “They [Labour] did nothing for 13 years.”

Mr Cameron dismissed Labour’s backing for electoral reform so close to the election as a “bit of a ploy” and accused the Liberal Democrat leader of being “holier than thou”, pointing to the £2.5m his party received from Michael Brown, a “criminal on the run”.

The opening, one-minute statements by the leaders – who did not know the audience’s questions in advance – were revealing. Mr Brown’s pitch, in effect, was that the country needed to stick with his experience until the economic storm had passed so it avoided a double-dip recession. “This is the defining year,” he said. “These are no ordinary times, and this is no ordinary election.”

Mr Cameron began with an apology over the expenses scandal, admitting: “Your politicians - frankly, all of us - let you down." He said: “There is a big choice at this election. We can go on as we are, or we can say 'No, Britain can do much better.’ We can deal with our debts, we can get our economy growing and avoid this jobs tax, and we can build a bigger society.”

Mr Clegg directed his fire equally at what he called “the two old parties,” saying the election offered “a fantastic opportunity to do things differently.” He told voters: “So don’t let anyone tell you the only choice is the same old politics. We can do something new, something different.”

The Prime Minister warned that Tory plans to cut £6bn from spending in 2010-11 would threaten thousands of jobs of “good people”.

Mr Cameron said the savings were achievable as the public sector remained profligate, citing a recent seven per cent pay rise to hospital managers. He added: “Gordon is effectively saying: ‘I want to go on wasting now so I can put up your taxes later’."

The Lib Dem leader accused his two rivals of not being straight with country and pretending that huge sums could be saved just by scrapping “paper clips and pot plants” in Whitehall.

The moderator, the ITV presenter Alastair Stewart, described the debate as “history in the making” and told The Independent after the debate last night: “I was satisfied with the way the format worked because it was the first time for anyone. We were feeling our way. We have proved this can be done but I think we will be suggesting refinements to the rules in the future.

“The area we need to look most clearly at is the audience participation. It would have been both fascinating and enlightening to go back to the people who asked the questions to see if they were satisfied with the answers.”

He added: “Backstage it was electric. If you have the head of ITV Current Affairs biting his nails it really focuses your mind.”

Addressing criticism that he kept butting in to the discussion, Mr Stewart explained: “I cut their answers off because I was following the rules. I was policing two things: the free debate, which couldn’t go over four minutes [an issue], and I also had to look at equity to make sure no one was lagging behind and everyone got their fair share. It was my principal job and I did it.

“Nick took the most risks by being the most conversational and the most apparently relaxed. It could have come off looking amateurish but he ended up looking quite accomplished. However, I must stress that all three carried themseleves off extremely well.

“I thought the level of backchat was fine, it was most interesting when they were sparring. We could have had bit more of that.”

The second 90-minute debate takes place on Sky next Thursday and will focus on foreign affairs, while the final one a week later on BBC 1 will cover the economy.

Clash of the leaders: Key moments

8.36pm: Immigration

GB "We want to control immigration. I introduced a points system... "

DC "Immigration is too high at the moment, it has been for the last 10 years and needs to come down. Two million over a decade – it's too much. We need not just a points system but a limit."

8.51PM: Crime

Clegg makes three references to "hardened criminals on the run" and describes prisons as "overcrowded colleges of crime". Cameron tells a story about a burglary which ended with the sofa being set alight and a child dying, and says the perpetrator will soon be released, too soon for his liking.

8.54pm: First joke

Brown on the Tory attack billboards carrying his face: "My face is smiling in these posters and I'm very grateful to you and Lord Ashcroft for funding that."

8.59pm: Political reform

The discussion began on MPs' expenses.

GB "I was shocked and sickened... We need to reform the House of Commons and cut the House of Lords by 50 per cent."

DC "Gordon, you've had 13 years... "

NC says the Lib Dems pushed a bill to sack MPs, and points to both men, "You blocked it. You blocked it."

9.23pm: The economy

The evening's key exchange was on the economy, with Cameron saying Government expenditure should be cut because it was bloated by "waste".

DC "If we think the future is just spending more money it's profoundly wrong. It's like saying that giving up smoking would be bad for your health. Cut the waste, it will be good for the economy."

NC "These two talk about waste as if we could fill the black hole in public finances by cutting paperclips and pot plants in Whitehall."

GB "The only reason we have kept the economy moving is because the Government stepped in to put money into the economy. Only the Conservative Party is against that. It is important to take no risks with the recovery. Once again the Conservatives are showing they are a risk to the recovery."

DC "£6bn [cuts] is [only] one out of every £100 this government spends – which business or family hasn't had to make that decision at some point?"

Before this exchange, the ITV.com live ratings were: Clegg 57 per cent, Cameron 23 per cent, Brown 20 per cent. Afterwards, it was Clegg 43 per cent, Brown 34 per cent, Cameron 22 per cent.

Each leader's key line

Clegg: The more they attack each other the more they sound the same.

Brown: Risk.

Cameron: You've had 13 years, Gordon.

Broke rules (kept talking)

Nick Clegg 9

David Cameron 0

Gordon Brown 5

"I agree with Nick"

Brown love bombs Lib Dem: 7 times.

Working the crowd

Clegg name-checks the audience: 10 times.

10pm: Score on ITV.com ratings

Clegg 45 per cent, Brown 36 per cent, Cameron 19 per cent

YouGov: NC 51 per cent, DC 29 per cent, GB 19 per cent

ITV poll: NC 43 per cent, DC 26 per cent, GB 20 per cent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments