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Labour is now in the greatest peril as Gordon Brown appears to have become the "Great Ignored"

Nick Wood square Nick Wood's daily High Noon column

Nick Clegg is the volcanic eruption of this campaign, but he is not the full story. To borrow a line from John Prescott, the tectonic plates of our political landscape are shifting fast and tonight, with the second of the Leaders' Debates, further tremors seem inevitable.

Media coverage of the campaign has so far focused on two players - Clegg and Cameron. Clegg's star rose dramatically a week ago and now, inevitably, he is experiencing the full force of scrutiny by Fleet Street's finest.

Six of today's front-pages lead on anti-Clegg stories, ranging from The Sun, which is thoroughly enjoying itself, to the Financial Times.

No one has landed a knockout blow yet - though the Telegraph story about curious funding arrangements raises as many questions as answers. Clegg promises full disclosure "in a few days". Perhaps he wants to wait until May 7. The press will not be prepared to wait more than a few hours.

But it is Labour that is in the greatest peril. The pollsters are routinely consigning the governing party to third place and a rating in the mid to high 20s. And the Labour campaign has apparently ground to a halt.

David Cameron began by talking about the "Great Ignored". Right now the "Great Ignored" looks like Gordon Brown, woundingly likened to King Lear by Steve Richards in the Independent today.

This is Lear's most famous line, but it could have come from the mouth of the Prime Minister as he contemplates his ever dwindling authority.

"I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall -- I will do such things --
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth!"

Labour cannot afford to drop any further behind the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. While Cleggmania may ensure that the Tory-Liberal fight ends in a draw with neither party making inroads against the other, Labour is
teetering on the precipice.

If it loses any more support and drops below 25%, it will find that in previously safe seats the Lib Dem surge will allow Tory candidates to come through the middle and grab unlikely victories.

Cameron's twin goals tonight are to halt the Lib Dem bandwagon and ensure that Labour continues down its path towards oblivion.

He will need to be sharper, crisper, more assertive and more memorable than last week. He will be on the back foot over Iraq and under some pressure over Afghanistan. There he needs to acknowledge genuine differences of opinion over the two wars while sticking to his guns. Taking out Saddam Hussein was right then and is right now. Ditto the Taliban. What he must not do is try to split the difference.

But Europe and Trident offer an opportunity for Cameron to show he has a clear and compelling vision of Britain's unique role in the uncertain world of the 21st Century.

Clegg appears to be ready to let Iran have nuclear weapons but not Britain. Even worse, he subscribes to a mushy internationalism in which the summit of his ambition is for the land of Nelson and Churchill to become a bigger Belgium.

As for Gordon, his threats look increasingly empty.

Nick Wood, Managing Director, Media Intelligence Partners


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