What the papers say: The second leaders’ debate

By Marina Kim

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg didn’t do his reputation or popularity any harm in last night’s TV debate according to this morning’s papers.

The Independent, which might be expected to feel warmly towards him, said Mr.Clegg’s opponents failed to force him “back into the bottle.” It said both Cameron and Brown learned from last week and changed their performance approach, but nothing could stop Nick Clegg’s political advances.

Its leader said: “Mr. Brown was keen to emphasise his experience. Throughout the debate, he cited past Labour achievements, from bringing in civil partnerships to reducing net immigration.”

The paper calls Cameron’s performance “subdued” although it admits he made some improvements in style, like looking directly into the camera.

It added: “The Conservative leader only came to life at moments. He too sought to emphasise differences between the parties. But he lacked the conviction that many of his supporters were doubtless hoping for.”

It concluded: “Mr. Clegg lived up to his performance of last week managing to present himself as the true face of change in British politics.”

In the Times’ view the British electoral scene changed back, after last night, to being a two-party system.

But this time the two parties are Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, it reckons Labour is lagging too far behind to be a threat.

The paper’s editorial scrutinises Nick Clegg’s policies scarcely mentioning Brown and Cameron. In the paper’s view: “Mr. Clegg’s articulate cogency hides some worrying policy.”

The paper didn’t like his defence policy: “Mr. Clegg’s claims for not renewing Trident are exaggerated and it would be wrong to forgo a defence system amid volatile and unpredictable international relations.”

The newspaper also takes a different view from Mr Clegg on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It said: “The retreat back into quietism is a great risk, a policy that has been made obsolete by the forces of globalisation.”

The paper does not think that Brown and Cameron “made an unwavering case” but admits that Cameron came back stronger than last week.

It concludes: “After this debate, [the electorate] is left with a choice between two candidates.”

The Guardian disagrees that Brown is out of the race. Moreover, it says that his performance gave Labour hope. In the paper’s view there was no clear winner.

The paper is certain that after debate Brown “will have won a few votes and lost none.” However, the paper does not let him attack their new favourite – Clegg.

“The unhappiest line of the evening – from an otherwise greatly improved prime minister – was Mr Brown’s insulting charge that Nick Clegg is “anti-American”. He isn’t, and opposing Iraq was not a sin.”

The Guardian summarised the debate “a quick game of three-way tennis that will have left all three sides satisfied.”

The Daily Telegraph is more descriptive in their view of the leaders’ performance. It says the debate was “cut-and-thrust”, “red in tooth and claw”, and “sparked real passion.”

The paper’s editorial said: “Mr Clegg showed that his first impressive outing was no flash in the pan, while Mr Cameron was in much more assertive form. As for the Prime Minister, he appeared angry rather than passionate, which will have grated with some viewers.”

It admits that the debates changed the nature of the campaign making it more exciting. But it suggests the transformation is not entirely for the better.

The paper’s verdict is: “It’s a two-horse race between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, with Mr Brown trailing.”