Steve Richards: Liberal Democrat leader prevailed over the three legs

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

More than the other two debates a verdict depended on the voters' attitude towards the parties. Before a word was uttered last night a pattern of sorts had formed in the polls. With a week to go the Conservatives are ahead with support in the mid 30s and the other two parties are battling it out with Labour in third place. Not surprisingly the instant polls after the debate reflected what is a fairly settled position. So close to polling day and with the economy the central issue subjectivity plays an increasingly bigger role.

Those that have long believed that David Cameron and George Osborne made a fundamental error when they called for spending cuts at the height of the recession would not have changed their minds by last night's exchanges. Voters who support the Conservatives' approach to the economy will have given Cameron the thumbs up as he sought to defend his economic policies against a passionate onslaught from Gordon Brown.

After his clash with a Rochdale voter the pressure on Brown was greater than ever. Not for the first time when superhuman resilience was needed he acquired a fresh sense of urgency, having been caught on camera slumped in a radio studio the day before apparently drained of energy. Brown's opening statement was well judged, a sensibly restrained passing reference to the calamitous drama with his voter, and then a powerful argument against cuts in public spending this year.

At least I judged it to be a powerful argument as I am opposed to immediate spending cuts. For those voters who believe the Conservatives' misread this recession Brown exposed their inconsistencies and misjudgements with a sense of passion he has lacked in the other two debates when he tried too hard to appear 'prime ministerial', was buttoned up and lacked agility. He highlighted effectively the immediate dangers of the Conservatives' planned emergency budget and the iniquities of the commitment to abolish inheritance tax, an increasingly aberrant proposal. But for those voters who are convinced that the Conservatives have scope to cut this summer Cameron would have reassured them that their convictions are wisely held. There are more of them than there are those who support Brown. Not surprisingly they called it for Cameron.

Stylistically the debate was very different from the two that preceded it, perhaps reflecting its proximity to polling day. There was much less mutual politeness. Cameron described Brown as offering "desperate stuff from someone in a desperate state". Later he suggested that Brown should be ashamed and towards the end that he was a tired prime minister who had nothing else to say. Brown contrived every answer to make sure in relation to the economy he tore apart Cameron's approach. Even more than in the first debate, Nick Clegg sought to play the plague on both your houses role. Last night he sought to play it too hard. He accused the other two of "political point scoring" when they were engaged in a perfectly valid debate. On the economy he suggested a coming together of the "Chancellors and vice-chancellors". I do not know quite what he had in mind but it did not sound very credible. Are differences between parties not permissible in the so-called 'new politics'?

Later the dynamics became more familiar. Brown lapsed into reciting lists of objectives and policies. Voters who might have been paying more attention to him at the beginning would have switched off. Clegg was adept at dealing with the attacks on him: "Let's save time by assuming David Cameron misrepresents our policy". Cameron was more relaxed once the section on the economy had passed and articulated his policies effectively as he has done in all three debates. Part of the weird mythology about these debates is that Cameron has been a poor performer.

But Brown returned to his overriding theme. The other two were both a risk in relation to the economy. When he did so he came back to life. Given that he was in political hell 24 hours earlier, and that his economic policies are closer to what are required – much closer to the US and equivalent countries in Europe too – he deserved to score better last night. Clegg was less effective, although this might be because we are used to him now in this elevated context.

But voters are starting to make up their minds. Clegg was the winner when all three are considered. Cameron has cause for optimism and these are very dangerous days for Brown and his party.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bahrainis on an anti-government protest in May  

Hussain Jawad's detainment and torture highlights Britain's shameless stance on Bahraini rights

Emanuel Stoakes
August 1923: Immigrants in a dining hall on Ellis Island, New York.  

This election demonises the weakest

Stefano Hatfield
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003