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Britain’s third party scores heavily in first TV debate

world Updated: Apr 17, 2010 00:57 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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The leader of Britain’s third largest political party — a fresh-faced man pollsters said was an unknown among a quarter of the population — trounced his rivals in the country’s first of the three American-style television debate on Thursday night ahead of general elections.

Nick Clegg, 43-year-old leader of the Liberal Democrats, easily won over Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative aspirant David Cameron in an otherwise stilted and rule-bound debate.

Clegg summed up the debate saying: “I know you think that all politicians are the same. I hope I have tried to show you that that isn’t true.” His ‘plague on both your houses’ approach proved to be a resounding success with viewers.

It was a massive victory for Clegg — in a poll of 1,000 voters by Ladbrokes last month, 98% said they had heard of the race horse Kauto Star but 25% had never heard of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party that could hold the key to power after the May 6 elections.

In an embarrassing acknowledgement of that potential, Prime Minister Brown peppered his comments with “I agree with Nick” and “I think Nick would agree with me.”

Clegg, keen to be seen as politically distinct from Labour, at one point rebuffed Brown’s overtures during the 90-minute primetime show covering domestic issues such as immigration, health, education, economy, constitutional reform and last year’s MPs’ expenses scandal.

Brown, a former finance minister, was at his best dealing with economic issues, warning that Conservative plans to withdraw his government’s stimulus package could lead to a double-dip recession.

How the debate translates into voting on May 6 is unclear: The last YouGov polling figures for The Sun from Apr 14-15 had the Conservatives leading on 37%, Labour closing in on 31% and Liberal Democrats on 22% — pointing to a hung parliament.