Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 11:14 UK

Clegg returns to campaign trail after debate 'success'

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg will be looking to build momentum in the coming days

Nick Clegg is seeking to capitalise on what was seen as a strong performance in the first prime ministerial debate as he returns to the campaign trail.

The Lib Dem leader is campaigning in the north-west of England before moving onto Humberside later on Friday.

Mr Clegg said the debate was an "important step" but the party warned they faced greater scrutiny after early polls suggested he "won" the encounter.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have also claimed victory after the debate.

Thursday's encounter in Manchester was the first of three between Labour leader Gordon Brown, Conservative counterpart David Cameron and Mr Clegg during the campaign, the first in UK political history.

A handful of snap polls suggested Mr Clegg had emerged ahead after the event, with a YouGov/Sun poll giving him 51% of support.

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said the public reaction suggested the Lib Dems could "dream of doing better" than five years ago - when they won their largest number of seats for 80 years.

However, he stressed Mr Clegg's performance did not, in itself, mean people were more likely to vote for him or that he would be able to sustain the momentum into the other debates.

Recent polls suggest the Lib Dems could get anywhere between 17% and 22% of the national vote on 6 May, compared with 22% in 2005.

'Three-way race'

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown said the debate was "potentially a game-changer" for the Lib Dems but warned against "triumphalism", stressing the party would now be under closer inspection.

"We are not there yet," he told the BBC. "There is a lot more work to do."

We look forward to being scrutinised because when people look at our policies they tend to like them
Ed Davey, Liberal Democrats

Ed Davey, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, added: "We look forward to being scrutinised because when people look at our policies they tend to like them."

The Lib Dems said they would "absolutely not" change their campaign plans, or add new events to promote Mr Clegg, following the initial favourable reaction to his debate performance.

They said they were "very comfortable" with their strategy, based on fully "costed" manifesto commitments on tax reform, class sizes, political reform and creating green jobs - and there was a "tremendous opportunity" to get their message across to the country.

Mr Clegg has spent much of the first 10 days of the campaign with his deputy and Treasury spokesman Vince Cable at his side.

On Friday, he is campaigning in Warrington and Hull while his engagements over the weekend include a speech on international development in London.

He told activists in Warrington the debate was an "important step" but stressed it was "just the start" of the campaign.

Strategy

As well as seeking to hold on to seats in the south of England against Conservative advances, the Lib Dems are targeting seats in cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle where they run those councils.

Nick Robinson said coming into the election the Lib Dems were concerned they did not have a flagship policy like their opposition to the Iraq war in 2005 to rally support.

He said the Lib Dems would now be the focus of more intense Conservative attacks while Labour supporters who may have considered voting Lib Dem to keep the Tories out may reconsider if there were signs of a growing Lib Dem surge in the north of England.

Mr Cameron has acknowledged Mr Clegg had a "very good debate" while saying he was also pleased with his performance and the opportunity to answer key policy questions directly.

Labour has said that while the Lib Dem leader came across well, the prime minister emerged ahead "on substance".

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the UK Independence Party said there was little difference between the three men and key issues, such as Europe, were ignored



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