The Second Leaders’ Debate: live-blog and live-chat

by Stephen Tall on April 22, 2010

Welcome to Lib Dem Voice’s coverage of the second televised debate between the three main party leaders, an event perhaps even more keenly anticpated than last week’s inaugural debate – though the viewing figures will almost certainly be fewer. As last week, we’re co-hosting live-chat, below, simultaneously with the Mark Reckons blog.

Verdict:

Yes, I think Clegg did very well indeed, at least as good as last week. His closing speech was amazing. His answer on immigration was great: a genuine dividing line, expressed passionately. His only weakness was Trident, where he has the right policy – it must be reviewed before we shell out on an out-dated system – but it’s difficult to sell a review.

The surprise of the night was Brown. I’m not sure it will do him any good, but he was energetic, focused, passionate. He’s stil unable to connect with the public, but he will have apealed to those voters who above all value granite-strong leadership.

Cameron started well, and was pretty level-pegging at the half-way staged. But then he faded, and made almost no memorable points.

The issue which will now dominate the media for the next few days is the issue of Labour leaflets. The Tories and their friends in the press will go after Brown and Labour, and (like the war of Jennifer’s Ear in ‘92) it wll bore the public rigid. But what Clegg did tonight was consolidate his performance last week.

Did he win? I think so, but I would, wouldn’t I? What is certain is that once again he has confirmed this is a three-way contest, and the Lib Dems are major players in British politics.

The Live-Blog, as it happened

9.30 pm – Brown: the economic recovery depends on me. Cameron: Britain can be greater, waffle, Big Society, blah. Clegg: exciting things are happening, let’s stand up for values Britain has always believed in: it can be different … Go Nick!

9.28 pm Scoring that question: clear win for Clegg, sounded passionate and reasonable. Oh and liberal, too. Brown made som strong points, Cameron once again the also-ran of the debate.

9.25 pm – Clegg: “please don’t pretend the problem doesn’t exist”. This is Clegg’s strongest section, and getting good response from audience too, especially for “You can’t deport 900,000 people if you don’t know where they live!” Once again, Cameron getting squeezed out of the debate. This really has been between Clegg and Brown.

9.23 pm – Strong rebuttal from Clegg on asylum amnesty: can’t wish away immigration chaos. Let’s go after the criminal gangs, and allow the victims to work so long as they don’t have a criminal record. Can’t say fairer than that.

9.20 pm – Clegg: we’ll tighten border controls, and we’ll also allow immgrants to work and pay their taxes. Brown goes for Clegg on immigartion amnesty. Cameron calls for cap on immigration, but he does like foreigners really.

9.19 pm – Question: how can we make imigration fair?

9.18 pm – Scoring that one: Clegg and Brown both made strong points, Cameron squeezed out.

9.18 pm – very strong finish from Clegg on need for banking reform: must never happen again.

9.15 pm – Cameron starting to sound a little tired, and this isn’t his kind of question, keeps coming back to jobs tax. Clegg takes opportunity to re-state Lib Dem priorities. Brown emphasises need for economic recovery above all else.

9.13 pm – Clegg makes very simple point: can it really be bad if politicians talk to each other? Brown recalls his government of all the talents: yes and how many of them stuck with you, Gordon?

9.10 pm – Clegg: agrees with questioner, calls for council of financial stability to bring people together. Brown reels off list of commitees which exist already.

9.09 pm – Cameron: yes we should work together, but please don’t make me.

9.08 pm – Question: is it time for a government of the best talents?

9.07 pm – Scoring that: some good stuff from Brown, but looked slippery on Labour leaflets issue. But mistake by Cameron to sound so angry about political campaigning. Good solid stuff from Clegg, though slightly on the defensive on wnter fuel payments (though the policy’s right).

9.04 pm – Cameron shows anger for first time tonight – sadly it’s about Labour leaflets. Very navel-gazing point: fail.

9.03 pm – Clegg: 2.5 million pensioners in poverty. Good answer from Clegg on winter fuel payments: need to extend it disabled and terminally ill.

9.02 pm – Cameron says it’s disagraceful to try and frighten people during an election campaign. So totally free of irony it’s not true.

8.58 pm – Question: is the £59 pension enough? Brown reels off list of tax credits available. Cameron talks about restoring earnings link. Clegg says yes, earnings link should be restored – then (anecdote) serious point about fuel poverty and pensioners sitting on bus rather than at home.

8.57 pm – Scoring that: good stuff from Nick, sounded most passionate. Brown performing strongly, Cameron getting sidelined.

8.55 pm – Good attack by Brown on Tories’ inheritance tax. Then undercut by Clegg pointing out that’s not what the question’s about: sharp debating.

8.54 pm – Clegg attacks “safe seats for life” culture, coming back to the questioner.

8.52 pm – Oh god, Brown’s gone off on the tractor-list of reasons investment matters ergo voting matters. Cameron at last mentions Big Society, urges the voters to join with the politicans to transform politics.

8.49 pm – Cameron: people are angry. But sounds a bit vague and bland – talks about cutting costs of politics, mentions open primaries. Adam Boulton vaguely mentions Torygraph smears: Clegg breezily waves it away as complete rubbish. Urges everyone to vote, “assert your right to vote”.

8.47 pm – Question: does my vote make a difference? Clegg says not enough: you should be able to sack MPs, and we should have fair votes. Brown reels off list of constitutional reform measures he’s failed to implement over past 13 years.

Half-way stage: Brown doing much better than last week. Clegg doing just as well. Cameron improved on last week, but weakest of three so far for my money.

8.42 pm – very strong answer from Clegg, not because he said anything remarkable, but because he dealt with it thoughfully, and with emotionally coherent rhetoric. Brown gives safe answer decrying abuse. Cameron slightly waffly. But I don’t think anyone’s going to disagree strongly on this issue. Brown rallies with strong point about supporting civil partnerships and embryology.

8.40 pm – Internet went down, but I think the new question was whether the leaders will welcome the Pope’s visit.

8.39 pm – I think Clegg won that one, but Brown also performing strongly. Cameron okay, but he doesn’t come across deeply.

8.38 pm – Very strong point from Clegg: Cameron’s rhetoric sits oddly with teaming up with climate change deniers in Europe. And answers head-on Brown’s odd charge of anti-Americanism: they’re our friends but we shouldn’t automatically agree with everything they say. Cue nodding heads up and down the country.

8.36 pm – Brown and Cameron both press nuclear case. Cameron wants renewables too. (Not sure how he’ll pay for it.) Clegg makes point – again, rightly – that the UK will be much stronger tackling climate change if it works with Europe.

8.34 pm – Brown asks Clegg why would Lib Dems rule out Trident. Clegg answers: too expensive, not effective, should invest money in renewables and home insulation.

8.32 pm – Brown urges everyone to get solar (not wind turbine dig at Dave). Cameron had an anecdote I didn’t quite listen to. Clegg cleverly goes for the honest answer: I don’t do enough. What we need is for government to give tax incentives.

8.29 pm – Question: what have the leaders personally done to tackle climate change?

8.28 pm – Scoring: Clegg’s Trident hand is a difficult one to play in a debate. He made his points well, but Cameron/Brown will have come across as most bomb-happy.

8.27 pm – ah, its Trident. Cameron trying to suggest Lib Dems want to leave UK unprotected. Clegg emphasises Lib Dem policy is supported by generals. Brown tells Clegg to “Get real” – tat’s one for the evening bulletins.

8.25 pm – Clegg’s turn for anecdote, emphasising the importance of equipping our troops.

8.24 pm – Cameron emphasises he’s been to Afghanistan four times, and then wonders off into an anecdote about joggin with a soldier. Not sure of the point of that. All agreeing the priority is to bring the troops down and have a political solution in place.

8.21 pm – Question: will the UK intervene against terrorist countries? Clegg says he supported invasion of Afghanistan, totally different to Iraq which Lib Dems opposed. All agree would have to think very carefully before putting troops’ lives in danger.

8.20 pm – Scoring Europe question: stylistically no-score draw. If you like Europe, you’ll probably think Clegg did best. If you don’t like Europe, you’d probably plump for Cameron.

8.18 pm – Clegg closes: of course we can change Europe if we lead.

8.17 pm – Clegg: you change clubs by getting stuck in, not by standing on the sidelines. Brown says Cameron and Clegg remind him of his two sons squabbling in the bath. Brown says: “David’s anti-European Nick’s anti-American”. Sounds a little ridiculous.

8.14 pm – Cameron trying to bracket Labour and Lib Dems together. Clegg intervenes strongly, refers to his trade negotiating experience, and makes point that EU pnches above its weight in a way the UK on its own just couldn’t.

8.13 pm – Cameron commits Tories to referendum guarantee on any future treaties. Clegg straight back at hm: Tories dropped Lisbon treaty referendum. Says only the Lib Dems will guarantee an in/out referendum. Tories putting anti-EU dogma ahead of workable solutions.

8.12 pm – Brown stresses jobs, and experience of dealing with European negotiations. Slips into usual Brown-list of issues.

8.10 pm – Clegg stresses the positive of Europe: climate change doesn’t stop at Dover. No, EU isn’t perfect, but we’re stronger together, weaker apart.

8.08 pm – First question: no advantage from being in Europe. Cameron says committed to Europe, but … too many powers etc. Trying to mark out Tories as different from “the other two parties” – is Cameron turning into Clegg-lite? Praises Merkel and Sarkozy, yet pulled Tory MEPs out of their gangs!

8.07 pm – Nick looking fresh and energetic, emphasising Britain’s values: internationalism, justice, human rights. Large stress on climate change. Good differentiation from Labservatives.

8.06 pm – Cameron’s statement: he’s looking into the camera. Emphasising the words strong and Britain. Looks more relaxed than last week.

8.05 pm – Brown’s opening statement: good honest statement – if you’re looking for PR, count me out. If you’re looking for someone who can do, choose me. Looked into the camera. Good start.

8.01 pm – The leaders, left to right, are Cameron, Clegg, Brown: Nick’s centre stage, as he has been for the last week.

8.00 pm – and it starts. Good luck, Nick!

7.58 pm – also live-blogging tonight are Paul Walter, Tom King and Craig Murray.

7.57 pm – incidentally if you’re following the debate on Twitter the hashtag appears to be #leadersdebate (why it’s so ridiculously long, not sure). If you prefer, I imagine a fair few Lib Dems will be using #GoNick.

7.53 pm – indeed, the Mail/Sun/Torygraph tirade has even got lefty Stephen Fry declaring “Frankly I’m tempted to vote Lib Dem now. If we let the Telegraph and Mail win, well, freedom and Britain die.”

7.51 pm
– well, what a day. I’ve been out for most of it ‘doing the day job’ but it does seem that (as predicted here) the rightwing press’s flailing attempts to smear Nick Clegg have rather backfired. Its main effect so far seems to have been to get the parodic #nickcleggsfault trending on Twitter, Ben Brogan embarking on an undignified climbdown, and the Lib Dems recording record online donations. More please.