British TV showdown throws up a surprise winner
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Last Updated: Friday, April 16, 2010, 18:07
London: Britain's first ever US style pre-election live television showdown has thrown a surprise winner, Nick Clegg leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats who many had written off, before the three contenders hit the airwaves.

As 10 million Britons stood glued to the television sets last night, little known leader of the third placed party emerged ahead of both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron.

A series of polls put Clegg ahead of Brown and Cameron as the two traded verbal blows on Britain's economic woes, involvement in Afghanistan in front of a carefully chosen studio audience.

Though Clegg's Party is unlikely to win outright in the May 6 General Elections but the Liberal Democrats could play a key role in the event of a hung Parliament being thrown up.

Dressed in suits, but clearly appearing nervous as the first of the such debates got underway, but it soon descended into a political free for all as Brown and Cameron lashed at each other over the economy and war in Afghanistan.

There were fierce clashes between Brown and Cameron on the economy, a key issue in the election as Britain recovers from its worst recession since the 1930s.

Brown repeatedly accused the Tories of planning to cut USD 9 billion of public spending by slashing a planned rise in payroll taxes by his Labour party.

Cameron hit back "cut the waist, stop the tax, that is the right answer".

The Liberal Democrat leader distanced himself from the two parties telling the viewers "don't let them tell you that the choice is only between the two parties. They have been playing pass-the-parcel with your votes for 65 years".

Another important issue thrown at the three contenders was immigration.

Brown was immediately forced onto defencive, claiming that immigration had been falling since he moved into 10 Downing Street.

"Let's be honest with each other, net inward migration is falling," he said.

"Falling because of the action we are taking."

However, he came under attack from Cameron, who pledged to introduce a cap on immigration.

"I want us to bring immigration down so it's in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands."

Clegg set out Liberal Democrat policy to restore exit controls and ensure that immigrants were matched regionally with jobs before arriving in Britain.

He called the current system "complete chaos".

As the rivals clashed, 'Sun' newspaper opinion surveys put Clegg ahead with 51 per cent to Cameron's 29 and Brown at 19 per cent. An ITV poll gave Clegg 43 per cent ahead of Cameron's 26 per cent and Brown's 20 per cent.

But there was no killer blow and Cameron appeared to be the most confident and relaxed of the three. However, it was Clegg who appeared to hit it off with the viewers.

"Clegg comes of age," screamed 'The Times'. The paper hailing his performance said, "Enter the outsider." The 'Daily Telegraph' said, "Clegg made the most of the opportunity".

While 'The Guardian' said "most of the people underestimated Clegg who made a powerful pitch that represented a change from the two old parties".

"It was Clegg's night. He used the biggest opportunity to ever come before the Lib Dems".


First Published: Friday, April 16, 2010, 18:07

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