The day after: Leaders’ debate dominates campaign

By Alex Stevenson

Party leaders are back on the campaign trail after yesterday’s leaders’ debate, as the Liberal Democrats’ performance in the polls shoots upwards.

An unweighted poll of 4,000 people who watched the leaders’ debate by ITV/ComRes saw 36% say they would vote Conservative if the election was tomorrow. Thirty-five per cent said Lib Dem and just 24% said Labour.

When extrapolated across the entire British population the Tories were on 35%, Labour on 28% and the Lib Dems on 24%. This gives Mr Clegg’s party a three-point bump on a ComRes poll carried out two days ago.

Nearly ten million people watched the first of three 90-minute televised clashes, which is dwarfing all other stories on the election campaign trail.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely judged to have come out on top of the first debate. An earlier ITV/ComRes poll said 46% thought Mr Clegg did best, with Conservative leader David Cameron in second with 26% and prime minister Gordon Brown trailing behind on 20%.

Polls show Clegg’s triumph

Mr Clegg strove to appear focused and determined rather than smug on a campaign visit to Warrington.

“I’m very well, I’ve had a good fry-up breakfast and keen to get on with the campaign,” he told reporters, before addressing a crowd of Lib Dem campaigners.

He said: “Last night’s leaders’ debate was an important moment in this campaign because it gave us the opportunity to say to people directly, sitting in their living rooms, that the real choice in this general election campaign is between the old politics of the past… and a new different fresh politics offered by the Liberal Democrats.”

After visiting Warrington rugby club to meet the team this morning Mr Clegg is visiting Hull to meet engineers on work-based training schemes.

David Cameron began by visiting a school in Nantwich, part of the Crewe and Nantwich constituency which Tory MP Edward Timpson won in a significant by-election defeat for Gordon Brown. He received a boost when Take That star Gary Barlow appeared alongside him to support a new school talent competition.

Mr Cameron said he felt “vindicated” after years of demanding the debates.

“I think people will be asking themselves ‘What was all the fuss about? Why on earth did we not have these things before?

“It is great they are under way now and I think we will have them in every election in the future and I think that is a really good thing for our democracy.”

Later, the Tory leader will move on to launch the Welsh manifesto in Prestatyn before visiting Wolverhampton to see a local business later in the afternoon.

Gordon Brown, who was judged by most polls to have come out worst of the three leaders, is in the south-east. He is expected to visit Hastings, one of a number of urban seats in the region under serious threat from the Conservatives.

Speaking to reporters on the train to Brighton, he said he had “enjoyed” the debate.

“I think it’s part of the debate we should have in Britain,” the prime minister commented. He said that people would have to judge who had performed best, adding: “People will see where the substance lies.”

Later the prime minister will visit Hastings, where he took part in a question and answer session at the local school. Eddie Izzard, who appeared in a Labour video yesterday, acted as a moderator.