No clear winner emerged from the second televised debate between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (centre), the Conservatives' David Cameron (right) and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, who pulled off a surprise win in the first round.
AFP - Britain's election race tightened after the second party leaders' TV debate failed to produce a runaway winner, increasing the chances of a hung parliament.
All eyes were on Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on Thursday, who was braced for his opponents to round on him after his victory in last week's clash propelled his party out of their traditional third position.
But he managed to fend off verbal attacks from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron, scoring a narrow victory after the leaders traded blows on issues including Europe and nuclear weapons.
The results from early polls were close, however, and suggested that the May 6 general election would be a closely fought three-way battle.
Cameron came in a close second and Brown was trailing several points behind in third.
The results appeared to increase the likelihood that the vote would produce Britain's first hung parliament -- where no party has an overall majority -- since 1974.
After the nervous start to last week's debate, the gloves came off quickly in the second clash on Sky News television which focused on foreign affairs.
Clegg had to face a two-pronged attack from Brown, of the ruling Labour Party, and Cameron over his party's opposition to renewing Britain's Trident nuclear submarines.
"I say to you Nick 'get real, get real', because Iran, you are saying, might be able to have a nuclear weapon and you wouldn't take action against them," said Brown.
Clegg had criticised both the government's and the main opposition's plans to spend money on replacing a "Cold War nuclear missile system."
To laughs from the audience, Cameron added: "I have never uttered these words but 'I agree with Gordon'.
"You cannot take a risk with this."
Brown did not reserve his criticism for Clegg alone, however, telling both his opponents: "Nick, you will leave us weak, David you will leave us isolated in Europe."
The leaders also clashed over Europe, with Brown and the Lib Dem leader attacking Cameron for his decision to withdraw his party's European lawmakers from the centre-right European People's Party.
The prime minister accused Cameron of aligning himself with "right-wing extremists", while Clegg said the Tory leader was working with "nutters, anti-Semites."
Cameron however claimed both his opponents had let Brussels take too many powers away from London.
"What you are hearing from the other two is, frankly, do not trust the people," he said.
"Do not ask them when you pass powers from Westminster to Brussels."
The leaders were also asked directly if they thought a coalition government -- which would be the outcome of a hung parliament -- was the way forward for Britain.
Clegg, who could hold the balance of power if no one party has an overall majority, spoke positively of such an outcome.
"People are beginning to hope that we can do something different this time," he told the audience.
Cameron reiterated his view that it would be a bad result, saying: "I think we do need decisive government to take some of the difficult decisions for the long term."
Clegg dismissed as "rubbish" accusations of wrongdoing after a story in the Daily Telegraph paper revealed that three businessmen paid up to 250 pounds a month into his bank account in 2006, a year before he became party leader.
A series of instant polls taken after the clash indicated the poll battle would be tight.
An average of five surveys gave Clegg a narrow lead -- on 33.4 percent -- but only slightly ahead of Cameron, who was on 32.8 percent.
Brown meanwhile scored 27.6 percent.
Britain's press on Friday praised the Lib Dem leader for fighting off his opponents, with the Guardian saying: "Clegg survives the storm."
"The debates suggest that the dynamics of the campaign have been transformed, and there will not be a reversion to two party politics," it added.
"Nick Clegg and David Cameron gave assured performances," said The Times.
But the paper was less complimentary about Brown, saying he "sounded like a man convinced that things could only get worse."
Date created : 2010-04-23