As I posted yesterday, I missed watching the debates live but then stayed up far too late watching the debrief on just about every news channel. It seems to be the common view that Nick Clegg was the best performer and that Gordon Brown trailed in third.
Depressingly, each party is now claiming their man won. This is patent nonsense and does nothing to improve the image of politicians as people reasonably in touch with reality. We should accept Nick Clegg was the best performer on the night, congratulate him and move on to the next debate. Being the best performer in one debate does not mean that you are necessarily the best Prime Ministerial candidate or that you have the right policies.
Nick Clegg had the huge advantage of being able for the first time to play with the big boys. PMQs is a Cameron v Brown event where Clegg is a bit part player. Last night he was an equal. Of course that is going to impress people – he has the advantage of novelty. The real challenge for him will be to sustain his achievement last night over all 3 debates. The more exposure he gets, the more likely it is that people will look beyond the novelty to the substance. That is good for the Conservatives as the Liberal have for many years played an entirely different game in different constituencies depending on whether their nearest challengers are the Conservatives or Labour. They have got away with it precisely because their leader has stayed in the shadows cast by the leaders of the two main parties. Clegg will not be able to portray his party as left of Labour and right of Labour at the same time in public glare offered by the debates.
It has been suggested in some quarters that David Cameron may now be regretting having pushed for these debates. By the third debate, I doubt they will be saying that any more.