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Round two

April 23, 2010

Conservative leader David Cameron and incumbent Gordon Brown both bounced back from muted performances in the previous debate, while rising star Nick Clegg continued to hold his own.

Cameron, Clegg and Brown in the first debate
The debates are the first of their kind in British historyImage: AP

Polls taken after the most recent televised debate among British party leaders late Thursday are increasingly suggesting the likelihood of a hung parliament after May 6 elections, meaning centrist Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg may hold the key to forming a new government.

Clegg, previously discounted as the leader of a fringe party that has never gained wide acceptance in national elections, was the undisputed winner of the first debate last week.

But round two of the debates suggested the race was tightening, with one poll giving Clegg 33 percent approval, and Labour's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron each 30 percent. Another poll showed Cameron with 36 percent, Clegg with 32 percent and Brown with 29 percent.

Britain's Houses of Parliament
It seems increasingly likely that no one party will gain an outright majority in parliamentImage: AP

Conservatives have argued that a hung parliament - and the squabbling that ensues with trying to form a coalition government - would put off the difficult decisions of how to cut the country's troubling deficit.

"I don't think a hung parliament would be good for Britain," said Cameron. "I think we do need quite decisive government to take some of the difficult decisions for the long term," he said.

Nuclear deterrence

The debate on Thursday night focused on foreign policy, and was the second in a series of three televised debates - the first of their kind in British history.

Brown was on the offensive against his opponents on issues like nuclear weapons and European integration. He blasted Clegg for opposing a renewal of Britain's Trident nuclear missile program, and Cameron for taking his party out of the main center-right bloc in the European Parliament in favor of an alliance with smaller parties.

"Nick, you will leave us weak, David, you will leave us isolated in Europe," he said.

Third party rise

Anti-nuclear protestors block a road in Parliament Square in London
Clegg has joined opposition to renewing of the Trident nuclear missile programImage: AP

Cameron joined Brown in his criticism of Clegg's nuclear stance, but accused Brown and the Labour Party of running a dirty campaign by distributing flyers that said a Conservative government would cut social benefits for pensioners.

Meanwhile Clegg, dubbed by some in the British media as "Britain's Obama," seemed fully aware of his chances at breaking the two-party system in the UK that has seen Conservative and Labour governments trading places since World War Two.

"People are beginning to hope that we can do something different this time," Clegg said. "If we do things differently, we can be a force for good in the world."

Editor: Catherine Bolsover