The second televised leadership debate was a more engaging scrap with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg spoiling for a fight.
The big surprise here was Brawler Brown who clearly had his boxing gloves on and gave a far more polished performance than the previous week. Given the surge in support for the Lib Dems, it was no surprise that Clegg would be the target here for both the Tories and Labour.
And so it was that Nick took centre stage and found himself assailed from both sides. However, all credit to the Lib Dem leader, he held it together just as he had last week and the polls showed that Lib Dem support remained buoyant.
Cameron attacked his opponents more aggressively than the previous showdown and once again was ganged up on during the first question about the craptacular EU. However, he was less touchy feely than the previous week and there was no doubt that he was determined to get down to business and start winning the election.
Here’s how they all fared:
It was definitely a case of Brown the Bruiser this week as his opening statement acknowledged his poor performance claiming he wasn’t all about style and PR. However, within the first 5 minutes, Brown was leering away trying to tame that dreadful forced smile of his that’s about as genuine as Bliars shredded expense claims.
Nevertheless, Brown sought to put clear water between Labour and the Lib Dems and it wasn’t difficult to see why. With all the talk of a hung parliament, Nick Clegg has said that part of a deal for agreeing to form a coalition government would be that Brown steps down.
Policy details were pushed effectively, not that Labour has anything to be proud of, and Brown’s big theme was that of experience although his 13 years of wasteful spending, taxes and economic mismanagement were strangely absent. As before, Brown smirked through other leaders answers and tried to crack a joke that had all the spontaneity of a Swiss planning committee.
Hilariously, Brown appeared to have learnt nothing from his embarrassing YouTube clip and at times seemed to be auditioning for the lead role in a musical about disco’s in what he and his spiv spin doctors obviously thought was an animated performance.
Using the tactic established by Clegg in the previous week, the Tory leader made sure to look into the camera and connect with the viewers at home. The opening question was about the EU that puts Conservative policy firmly at odds against Labour and the Lib Dems who would much rather we were ruled over by Brussels. Cameron could really have nailed this but perhaps decided not to push a hard-line over Europe, a decidedly unwise move given it regularly tops the list of issues voters are concerned about, especially as the promised referendum by Labour was never given.
Dave was quick to take on Clegg and clashed with him several times over expenses and immigration, both topics that the Lib Dems are famously weak on. However, once again the Tory leader placed family at the heart of Conservative policy and also sought to reassure voters mentioning several times that they shouldn’t be frightened into backing Labour or the Lib Dems.
Brown didn’t get off lightly either and Cameron was visibly irritated when questioned about free eye tests and bus passes that Brown claimed the Tories would ditch. The closing speech could have been better and I still think Cameron missed a trick or two to hang the other two leaders on their demented pro EU policies.
Following on from last week, it was business as usual with Clegg giving as good as he got. With the intense media scrutiny over the Lib Dem leader, it was obvious he would be in for a pasting from both the Tories and Labour but he didn’t buckle and even managed to fire a few arrows back although the playing field had certainly been levelled after the previous debate.
Clegg tried to build upon the Lib Dem position over foreign policy for which he was ridiculed by both Brown and Cameron and once again pushed the central message that change was possible if voters had had enough of the other parties.
The thing with Clegg is that he knows how to play the game and even his pro-EU speech was littered with the kind of language that would sway wavering voters and reassure them that UK sovereignty isn’t about to be handed over on a plate to the French and Germans. With Nick Clegg it’s always not so much about what he says but what he doesn’t say, a clever ruse to paper over the cracks of the lunatic Lib Dem manifesto that has more holes than a Swiss cheese.
The debate was shown on Sky and was better than ITV with Adam Boulton anchoring the programme and prepared to bend the rules to question Clegg directly over a dodgy donation to his personal bank account. The final debate looms next week on the BBC with David Dimbleby chairing which will be the last opportunity for the leaders to debate together.
Let’s see then if and how their strategies change to win over the electorate.