Sky News hosted the second Leader's Debate last night from Bristol's Arnolfini arts centre as measures designed to ensure British elections become little more than a US-style gladiatorial contest continue. Eschewing last week's 1980s Countdown stage set look, they apparently bought up some old bits and pieces used for televised darts matches instead. The Kraftwerk-minus-one-member-(and talent) imagery was also gone - this week, the leaders stood behind what may have been designer refrigerators.
Gordon Brown's not looking too healthy these days - going head-to-head with
Cameron and Clegg seems too much for him.
Daveyboy Cameron put on a much better show than last week and was altogether sharper and more on the ball. He wasted no time in getting the knives out for Gordon Brown when he demanded that the PM withdraw leaflets accusing the Tories of wanting to cut benefits for the elderly - Mr. Brown, who looked uncomfortable, claimed that he had not authorised leaflets making any such claim. This could well prove to be one of the biggest mistakes of his life - Cameron's claims were effortlessly backed up by various Labour MPs and pundits right after the show when they produced an assortment of those very leaflets as evidence.
Poor old Gordon! We may loathe the old curmudgeon and we might think he should never have been the Prime Minister in the first place, but we don't half feel sorry for the old sod. While Cameron had done his homework and prepared himself for the previously underestimated foe that is Nick Clegg and his oratory skills, Brown didn't really do any better than last week. He looks exhausted and as though he's beginning to melt - if his temper is truly as bad as has been claimed, we hope he loses the forthcoming Election and retires from politics for the good of his own heart's health as well as that of the nation.
Cameron also made a less successful to attack the LibDem's golden boy, accusing him of being holier-then-thou over the expenses scandal. That may be the case, but the fact remains that Clegg's party came out of that mess in much better shape than the other main parties and, during the early days when recriminations and accusations were flying about the Commons in even bigger flocks than the bullshit, the LibDems gave the impression of doing something about it while Labour and the Conservatives tried to score points.
On the same topic, neither Cameron nor Brown made much of a big deal over the recent allegations that several transfers of £750 from donors into his private bank account. Clegg has since come clean, admitting that he received a total of £20,000 in this way - political suicide in the current climate were it not for the fact that he has a full set of bank statements showing the money was used for its totally legitimate purpose - paying a member of staff. So why was so little made of this? Could it be that Labour and the Tories believe that the Liberal Democrats are, in fact, holier-than-them and knew there was no point in slinging mud where none would stick? They were more than happy to make plenty of noise about it in the run-up to last night's debate, however, perhaps hoping to tarnish Clegg's reputation after he wiped the floor with them last week.
Nick, it must be said, did not do quite so well as previously, though it's our opinion than he still put in a better effort than his rivals - had Cameron have been quite as dire as last week, Clegg may well have aced it once again. There was a brief display of showmanship when he raised a genuine laugh from the crowd by pointing out that Brown's plan to repatriate illegal immigrants is impossible if you don't know who or where those immigrants are. Brown, unusually, attempted a spot of humour too when he said that Dave and Nick's tussles reminded him of his own young sons at bathtime - Clegg retaliated by claiming "It was a good line in rehearsal," which seemed relatively unimportant until The Guardian managed to get hold of copies of overhead photographs proving that the line was in fact pre-prepared and written down on the PM's crib sheet, making Brown look more wooden than ever.
The first poll to deliver results - somewhat unsurprisingly, that organised on behalf of Tory snotrag The Sun - claimed Cameron was the winner with 36% of viewers believing he had been the star of the show, but the very next disagreed and placed Clegg in pole position once again with 33%, Cameron and Brown winning 30% apiece. More results were soon winging their way onto our screens, with the general consensus being that there was no clear winner. However, we strongly disagree with this - there was, in our eyes, a very clear winner: whichever Sky News employee came up with the quite frankly stunning animations projected onto Bristol's Arnolfini building.
Make sure you tune in for next week's show, folks - DavCam is going to be determined to be clear winner in at least one of the debates that he supported right from the start and Cleggy will be wanting to go out in style. It could well prove to be the clash of the New Labour and LibDem titans. Oh - and who knows, Gordon Brown might even bother to get out of bed for a third go.