Tories attack 'eccentric' Lib Dems after debate ratings

The Tories today launched a ferocious broadside against "eccentric" Liberal Democrat policies after Nick Clegg emerged as the clear winner in a clutch of instant polls following last night's historic leaders' debate.



Jubilant Lib Dems hailed their leader's performance, saying it could transform the General Election battle, giving them the momentum to overhaul Labour's second place in the opinion polls.



But the Conservatives made clear they intended to target the party in the run up to the second debate next week, when Mr Clegg will again go head-to-head with David Cameron and Gordon Brown.



A strong Lib Dem performance on polling day would increase the chances of a hung parliament, reducing the prospects of the Conservatives being able to form a majority government.



The importance of the debates was underlined by viewing figures which showed a peak audience 9.9 million tuned in for the 90 minute encounter on ITV1 - beating even Coronation Street which immediately preceded it.



Mr Cameron accepted his Lib Dem rival had had a "good debate" but insisted the Tories could still triumph on polling day.



"It's a huge challenge," he said in a phone-in on BBC Radio Manchester.



"We are in the middle of a hard-fought and tough election campaign. It's a campaign I believe we can win. It's a campaign I believe we ought to win because the country is crying out for change."



His shadow children's secretary Michael Gove warned they now intended to subject the Lib Dem's policy programme to intense scrutiny.



He highlighted Lib Dem plans to join the euro, scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent and offer an amnesty to illegal immigrants, which, he said, lay well outside the political mainstream.



"The greater degree of scrutiny these policies have, the more that people will realise that while Nick Clegg is a very attractive individual in many ways, the policies of his party are outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric - not necessarily what you would want at a time of crisis and difficulty," he told Sky News.



"Nick Clegg can play the role of the sparky and feisty outsider, the new kid on the block - and he plays that with a degree of assurance - but if you are making a decision about who the prime minister is, it is more important to weigh in the balance policy decisions."



In contrast, Labour was keen to emphasise areas of agreement with the Lib Dems, with Home Secretary Alan Johnson pointing to their opposition to push through spending cuts this year.



"Cameron and Osborne almost alone in Western politics believe you cut at the height of a recession. We agree with the Lib Dems on that," he told the BBC.



"We agree also on the need for really substantial reforms to our constitution - electoral reform in particular."



Mr Clegg, on the campaign trail in Warrington, was anxious to damp down expectations following the debate, saying it had been an "important moment" but stressing there was still a long way to go.



"It is just the beginning, but there is quite a way to go until people have their say in the ballot box. The leader's debate was an important step, but it was the beginning of the campaign proper," he said.



Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said Mr Clegg's strong showing in the debate could give the party a lift which could see it overtake Labour in the polls.



"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to happen, but it's possible this will completely change this election campaign," he told the BBC.



"If we see polls with the Liberal Democrats catching up on Labour, and even overtaking them, that is going to give us the momentum."



Mr Clegg topped four instant polls in the hours after the broadcast, claiming 51% of viewers' votes in a survey for The Sun, 43% in another for ITV News and 37% in a text message poll for Sky News.



The Sun had Mr Cameron on 29% and Mr Brown on 19%, ITV1's poll scored them on 26% and 20% respectively and the Sky News survey put the Tory leader marginally behind the Prime Minister by 31% to 32%.



In The Times, the Lib Dem leader was rated the winner by a colossal 61%, against 22% for Mr Cameron and 17% for Mr Brown.





Transport Secretary Lord Adonis later played down the Liberal Democrats' success in instant opinion polls, insisting that the choice was between a Labour or Conservative government.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "We're fighting for every vote and seat, of course we are, and we'll continue to do so and the next two debates will be a crucial part as that.



"So far as the Lib Dems are concerned, of course, across most of the country they are the third party and the issue facing Lib Dem voters is whether they wish to see a Labour government after May 6 or a Conservative government."



He said the policies of Labour and Liberal Democrats were "very close together".



"The Lib Dems start as the third party. Lib Dem voters by voting Lib Dem of course simply make it more likely that the Conservatives will get in as against the Labour Party...



"These are issues that voters will need to weigh as they watch the debate."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice