UK debate: Old guard rebounds

UK debate: Old guard rebounds


The quick answer, from most political pundits and instant polls by television networks, was that Clegg got a much stronger challenge the second time around from his rivals, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labour Party and David Cameron of Conservatives.

Tacitly acknowledging the strength of Clegg’s candidacy, both of his rivals used the debate to home in on the Liberal Democrats’ policies on immigration, defence and Europe, part of a broader, left-of-centre agenda that they believe make the party vulnerable if voters move beyond Clegg’s personal appeal and look closely at what his party might do in government.

Clegg remained assured and articulate, and his rivals appeared to shrug off their nervousness of the previous debate, as well as their seeming desire not to appear too combative.

But Brown and Cameron turned most of the heat in the 90-minute debate on Clegg.
Cameron accused him of self-righteousness over last year’s parliamentary expenses scandal, saying none of the leaders had a “right to place himself on a pedestal” in proclaiming the need for political changes.

One of the punchiest lines came when Brown, who has presented himself as the only candidate experienced enough to lead Britain out of its worst recession in 70 years, repeated a line that appeared to have been honed for sound-bite politics. “David,” he said, “you are a risk to our economy. Nick, you are a risk to our security.”

Cameron won what was almost the only round of laughter from the audience in Bristol when he added, “I didn’t think that I’d ever utter these words, but I agree with Gordon.”
On immigration, Cameron and Brown attacked Clegg for his party’s proposal to declare an amnesty that would legalise up to a million illegal immigrants who could prove they had been in Britain for at least 10 years.

Clegg appeared unrattled by the attacks, maintaining his habit of looking into the camera and addressing the audience directly, instead of his rivals. His main message was that the swing to the Liberal Democrats represented an opportunity to break the mold of British politics that had seen Labour and the Conservatives alternate in power since World War II.

“Something really exciting is happening,” he said. “People are beginning to believe that we can do something really different.”
The New York Times

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