You’d be forgiven, if you read this morning’s Daily Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph for thinking that after last night’s televised debate, David Cameron had already won the election and was set to be Prime Minister.
Indeed, the mood was positively triumphalist in some quarters and the usual vitriol was heaped on Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. However, the various post-debate polls showed that while David Cameron was ahead on most measurements, Populus had him tied with Nick Clegg and another pollster had the gap at just a couple of points. In terms of vote share, the debate seemed to have made less difference to intentions than Gordon Brown’s gaffe of the previous day.
I think those who have watched every minute of all three debates were strongest in their praise of Cameron who did perform better last night after an apparent shaky start. Clegg has not repeated his victory of the first debate but he continues to impress a significant minority and those who saw him perform for the first time last night seemed to have been most impressed.
I’ve not mentioned Brown because he’s frankly irrelevant – this is now a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with Labour seemingly on the cusp of collapse. Yes, Labour will retain a substantial number of seats but this election now looks set to deliver the worst performance for Labour since 1918.
Nick Clegg wasn’t in top form last night – immigration is always going to be difficult for a liberal party which finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion. However, it’s often the case that being on the wrong side of opinion doesn’t make you wrong – it often makes you right but it’s harder to persuade the doubters and it’s easier for your opponents to misrepresent your policies.
David Cameron may want to reflect on the very real possibility that in five years time he will be where Gordon Brown is now – having to defend unpopular policies and face tough questioning from a hostile audience. He may want to reflect on how he will deal with that instead of the friendly crowds and groups which are easy to deal with.
So, with just five days to go, we find the Conservatives battling the Liberal Democrats. The former have seemingly unlimited resources, especially of money, and doubtless nothing will be left to chance that money cannot resolve. They also have substantial allies in the media able to put out the Conservative line without critique and devote vast spaces to rubbishing and misrepresenting the policies and leadership of their opponents. The latter have hugely limited resources and no substantial outlet to rebut or refute the allegations of the Conservative-dominated media.
Yet tonight the Conservatives are polling at 2005 levels and are just 1% of their opponents.
It is akin to Chelsea or Manchester United being held 0-0 at home by Blue Square South opponents with just 10 minutes. You “know” the big club is going to win and probably has a £20m substitute waiting on the bench but they haven’t settled the game yet.
Tomorrow night’s polls are going to be fascinating – IF the Labour collapse breaks to the Liberal Democrats ands the party is close to or even leading the Conservatives, we will be in for a frenzied final four days.