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Clegg won the debate before a word was uttered - just by virtue of being there

Stephan Shakespeare Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov, gives his take on the first Leaders' Debate.

However much you were impressed by Cameron or Brown, the real winner before even a single word was uttered was Nick Clegg - just by virtue of his being there.

I've said before that I don't expect the debates to make a big difference, except to pump up the Lib Dems. Having a leader who has no chance of being Prime Minister up there with the other two genuine contenders greatly boosts his standing and reduces Brown and Cameron.

It won't push up the Lib Dem vote significantly, but it instantly makes Clegg a player. Remember, there are two more debates, and each time Clegg will become more important, and the other two will be diminished. Whatever they say, nothing will have as much effect as lining up these three as equals.

If we do end up with a hung parliament, and the Lib Dems gain a smaller share of seats than their share of the vote would give them under PR, then Clegg will have massively gained in his credibility to play the kingmaker. It's extraordinary that the two contenders allowed him to play along. Very generous.

I feel there was an unreal quality to the debate. It didn't feel like a fight, not a proper struggle to reach ordinary people. It's too polite, too fair, too clever, too veiled. Can't wait for the real battle to begin, maybe next week?

Stephan Shakespeare


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