Clegg holds own in British debate

LONDON — Nick Clegg has proven he wasn’t a one-hit wonder in Britain’s second election debate, holding his own against Labour’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Conservatives’ David Cameron over thorny issues such as Afghanistan, the Catholic sex abuse scandal and the special relationship with the United States.

The leaders of Britain's leading political parties

The leaders of Britain's leading political parties

LONDON — Nick Clegg has proven he wasn’t a one-hit wonder in Britain’s second election debate, holding his own against Labour’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Conservatives’ David Cameron over thorny issues such as Afghanistan, the Catholic sex abuse scandal and the special relationship with the United States.

Clegg shook up the race last week, emerging as a clear winner in Britain’s first U.S.-styled election debate and boosting the profile of the Liberal Democrats, the country’s third-largest party. Thursday’s debate, however, was razor-sharp. One polls gave Clegg a paperthin edge while others put Clegg neck-and-neck with Cameron. Still, Clegg managed to keep some of his political stardust — respondents in one of the polls said the 43-year-old seemed to be the most honest of the three.

But the real test before the May 6 election will be next week’s debate on the economy. Britain has one of the highest deficits in Europe with soaring unemployment. Brown, the former Treasury chief who has become deeply unpopular, could redeem himself in the final debate by giving voters a convincing economic recovery plan.

“I’m impressed by the positivity of Nick Clegg,” said audience member Andrew Pring, 44. “I’m interested in the possibility of electoral change, and David Cameron had nothing to offer. On the economy Gordon (Brown) speaks well, but he was on the watch when it all went wrong.”

Thursday’s debate came as anti-war protesters gathered outside the studio hosting the prime-time duel.

Much of the debate focused on foreign policy issues where there were clear differences between the leaders — Clegg said Britain’s ever-present but expensive relationship with the United States needed to be re-evaluated, Cameron continued his line that Britain shouldn’t be run by Europe and Brown continued with his support for a costly plan to replace the country’s four nuclear-armed submarines to guard against potential threats from Iran and other nations.

It was the closest Britain has come to the famous 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate — every grimace and blemish were seen in high-definition television format.

Polls suggest that no party will win an outright majority. That situation could turn the Liberal Democrats into a kingmaker, bartering with both Labour and the Conservative for things they want — namely electoral changes that could weaken Britain’s traditional two-party system.

Although Clegg has stunned pollsters, he is unlikely to become prime minister because Britain’s electoral system is not proportional so parties must win the majority of districts not the popular vote. This puts smaller and newer parties at a disadvantage. Most core voters still either vote Conservative or Labour.

Brown, who was deferential to Clegg in last week’s debate, was on the attack for much of Thursday. At one point, he told Clegg to “Get real,” for suggesting money designated to replace nuclear-armed subs may be better spent. He also repeatedly ridiculed Clegg and Cameron, both 16 years his junior.

“These two guys remind me of my two young boys squabbling at bathtime, squabbling about referendums on the EU when what we need is jobs and growth and recovery,” said Brown, 59. “I’m afraid David is anti-European, Nick is anti-American and both are out of touch with reality.”

Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats voted against the U.S.-led Iraq war, has in the past questioned British “subservience” to U.S. interests.

“It’s an immensely important special relationship, but it shouldn’t be a one-way street. We shouldn’t always do what our American friends tell us to do.”

An automated telephone poll taken by ComRes after the debate showed that 2,691 viewers favoured Clegg by a tiny margin. About a third of viewers believed that Clegg won the debate, while 30 per cent believed that Brown or Cameron won. The margin of error for that sample size is plus or minus 2 per centage points.

Cameron, who gave a lacklustre performance in last week’s debate, appeared to learn from his mistakes — he looked directly at the camera and seemed more confident Thursday. He almost lost his temper when he accused Brown of allowing campaign leaflets that suggested a Conservative government would cut benefits for the elderly.

“These lies you are getting from Labour are pure and simple lies. I have seen these lies and they make me very, very angry.”

Both Labour and the Conservatives voted for Britain to go to war in Iraq, a stance that has hurt them with anti-war sentiment still strong in Britain. The Labour Party, which has been in power for 13 years, lost many seats in the 2005 general election when voters cast protest ballots against Tony Blair’s decision to lead Britain into Iraq.

One audience member asked if leaders would support other multinational military operation.

Afghanistan, the latest nettlesome mission, in which 280 British troops have died, is now one of Britain’s longest and most costly conflicts, draining government coffers as the country tries to recover from its worst recession since World War II. Some 10,000 British troops are still there.

Clegg said troops needed better equipment. “If you put soldiers into harm’s way, you either do the job properly or don’t do it at all,” he said.

An audience member also asked whether the leaders backed Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in September, and if they supported the church’s stance on the sex abuse scandal, condoms, homosexuality and stem cell research.

All three men said they supported the visit, which is due to cost taxpayers some 15 million pounds ($22.5 million).

Cameron was most definitive, however, on other differences with the church, saying the church has “very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened.”

Clegg, a former member of the European Parliament, once backed Britain adopting the euro and has talked about forging stronger ties with Europe. He stressed Thursday that Britain needs co-operation from other European countries if progress is to be made on terrorism, immigration, climate change and bank regulation.

Cameron has long been a euro-skeptic and stood apart from both Clegg and Brown on Thursday when he suggested again there should be a referendum allowing British people to say whether they want to be part of the European Union.

Candidates managed to inject campaign mantras into the debate — with the Conservatives warning that a hung Parliament and a coalition government could hurt the pound and Britain’s credit rating and Brown saying that a Conservative government would jeopardize the economy and the Liberal Democrats could risk Britain’s national security.

Questions were posed by a pre-selected audience in the debate, which was governed by some 76 rules.


Associated Press Writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This unicorn was stolen from the small community of Delia, northeast of Drumheller on Friday and was recovered, with its bronze horn broken off, on Saturday. RCMP are looking for information on the suspects.
(Photo from RCMP)
Unicorn statue stolen from Delia recovered

Statue found with horn broken off in field about 15 km from Delia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at Rideau cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Liberals to release federal budget with eye on managing crisis, post-pandemic growth

OTTAWA — The federal government will this afternoon unveil its spending plans… Continue reading

Patches are seen on the arm and shoulder of a corrections officer in the segregation unit at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Correctional Service Canada says three inmates at Fraser Valley Institution recently tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Drumheller Institution inmate dies in custody

Inmate’s April 15 death under investigation

In this image from NASA, NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin… Continue reading

In this August 21, 1994 file photo, Rwandan Hutus give the departing French troops the thumbs-up as the French army pull out of Cyangugu, in southwest Rwanda. A report commissioned by the Rwandan government due to be made public on Monday, April 19, 2021 concludes that the French government bears "significant" responsibility for "enabling a foreseeable genocide" that left more than 800,000 dead in 1994 and that that France "did nothing to stop" the massacres. (AP Photo/Jean Marc Bouju, File)
Rwanda report blames France for ‘enabling’ the 1994 genocide

PARIS — The French government bears “significant” responsibility for “enabling a foreseeable… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Will Japanese Olympians be vaccinated ahead of the public?

TOKYO — The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with… Continue reading

PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, greets Bayern's Lucas Hernandez at the end of the Champions League, second leg, quarterfinal soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, France, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
PSG, Bayern the big names missing from Super League plan

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The plan for the new Super League soccer competition… Continue reading

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Marion Cotillard, left, and Brad Pitt appear in a scene from "Allied." (Daniel Smith/Paramount Pictures via AP)
Leo Carax’s ‘Annette’ to open Cannes Film Festival

Leo Carax’s “Annette,” starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver, will open the… Continue reading

From left, Producer Doug Mitchell, actor Chris Hemsworth and director George Miller attend at a press conference to announce the new "Mad Max" film at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney, Monday, April 19, 2021. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
‘Mad Max’ prequel shot in Outback to be released in 2023

SYDNEY, Australia — A prequel to the “Mad Max” movie franchise starring… Continue reading

In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo. President Joe Biden faces a vexing task as he convenes a virtual climate summit on Thursday. He is expected to present a nonbinding but symbolic goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will have a tangible impact not only on climate change efforts in the U.S. but throughout the world. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Biden pressed on emissions goal as climate summit nears

WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden convenes a virtual climate summit on… Continue reading

Women wearing masks wait near an advertisement ahead of the Auto Shanghai 2021 show in Shanghai on Sunday, April 18, 2021. Automakers from around the world are showcasing their latest products this week in the world's biggest market for auto vehicles. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
VW, Ford unveil SUVs at China auto show under virus controls

SHANGHAI — Volkswagen, Ford and Chinese brands unveiled new SUVs for China… Continue reading

Investigators from the Vancouver Police Department were in Chilliwack Saturday, collecting evidence connected to a double homicide. (file photo)
Police investigate shooting death of man outside downtown Vancouver restaurant

Vancouver police say one man was killed in what they believe was… Continue reading

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start registering people 18 years and older for COVID-19 vaccines

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government says it’s inviting people 18 years… Continue reading

Most Read