Page last updated at 21:49 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 22:49 UK

Nick Clegg's Lib Dems 'under scrutiny' after TV debate

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg: TV debate "just the start"

Nick Clegg's apparent strong showing in the first prime ministerial TV debate will force the Lib Dems' policies under the microscope, his rivals have said.

PM Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron said Mr Clegg had done well, as polls suggested a Lib Dem boost.

But Mr Brown said viewers would judge on "substance", while Tory frontbencher Michael Gove warned "eccentric" Lib Dem policies would now be scrutinised.

Mr Clegg said he welcomed the focus and that there was "a long way to go".

Insisting his feet were "firmly on the ground", he told reporters: "Some people are getting a bit hyped-up about this."

Shadow children's secretary Mr Gove was among a number of big-hitters, including Conservative Ann Widdecombe and Labour's Douglas Alexander, to warn the Lib Dem leader he faces intense scrutiny ahead of the 6 May election.

In other election developments on Friday:

A Sun/You Gov poll of 1,290 people published on Friday night in the wake of the prime ministerial debate pushes Labour into third place, with the Conservatives on 33%, Lib Dems on 30% and Labour 28%.

Applying these figures to the BBC Online election seat calculator results in the following: Labour 276 seats; Conservatives 245 seats; Lib Dems 100 seats; Others 29 seats.

BBC political correspondent Robin Chrystal stressed this was only one poll - but if it were to be replicated it would mark the start of a "very interesting and new political scene".

A Lib Dem spokesman said 250 people joined the party via their website immediately after the debate, while bookmakers shortened odds on the Lib Dems making significant gains at the election. William Hill was offering just 14/1 on them being the largest party on 7 May.

The policies of [Nick Clegg's] party are outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric
Conservative Michael Gove

Pollsters from ComRes, working for ITV, interpreted the results of a poll conducted immediately after the debate as showing a 3% "bounce" in national support for the Lib Dems compared with two days ago.

Support for the party rose to 24%, with Labour down one point on 28% and the Conservatives remaining on 35%.

But Mr Gove said Lib Dem plans to join the euro, scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent and offer an amnesty to illegal immigrants would now come into focus.

"The greater degree of scrutiny these policies have, the more that people will realise that while Nick Clegg is a very attractive individual in many ways, the policies of his party are outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric," he told Sky News.

Those qualities were "not necessarily what you would want at a time of crisis and difficulty", he added.

Meanwhile, former Conservative frontbencher Ann Widdecombe told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "The difficulty with the Liberals is - because they've never been in power and they never have to form a government - they can't be held responsible and accountable for anything."

Gordon Brown tells BBC Sussex that Nick Clegg should be pleased with his performance

Mr Cameron conceded Mr Clegg "had a good debate", while the prime minister told BBC Sussex the Lib Dem would be "rightly pleased" with his performance.

"Nick Clegg was introducing himself in many ways to the public, in a mass way, for the first time," said Mr Brown.

But while he would not complain about people's judgement of the leaders' performances, he said: "I really do think it comes down to the substance."

He added that voters did not know much about Lib Dem policies.

Labour's election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander told activists at the party's London headquarters that Mr Clegg was "always bound to gain from equal billing".

"He presented his case well but his policies have yet to come under real scrutiny," he said.

"That scrutiny, too, is likely to intensify now. People will be in for some surprises about the content of Lib Dem policies."

'First step'

Returning to the campaign trail on Friday in Warrington and Hull, Mr Clegg was hoping to capitalise on the extra publicity the debate had afforded his party.

"The leaders' debate is the first step. Hopefully it will have given people the sense that there are some real choices to be made," he said.

Saying he would welcome the extra public scrutiny, he added: "We have done an immense amount of work to make sure that our policies add up."

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

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 - they got 22% in 2005.

Ahead of campaigning, Lib Dem supporters had been concerned they did not have a flagship policy like their opposition to the Iraq war in 2005 to rally support, our correspondent added.

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.

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 in the debate.



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