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Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Sunday, 18 April 2010 19:02 UK

Testing the Clegg factor

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

So are the streets of Britain gripped by Cleggmania, as some press coverage is suggesting?

Keeley Buston
Conservative voter Keeley Buston says she wants change

The Liberal Democrat leader is said by one Sunday newspaper to be "nearly as popular as Winston Churchill" after he was judged to have got the better of Gordon Brown and David Cameron in Thursday's first historic prime ministerial debate.

But the electorate is a fickle beast and the big question for Mr Clegg and his opponents is how long will his opinion poll bounce last?

A few days ago my colleague Sarah Bell travelled to the Lib Dem marginal seat of Richmond in South London, where she found widespread enthusiasm for the party, in the wake of the televised debate.

I returned there on Sunday to find out if the mood had changed in this crucial swing seat, which the Conservatives must take if they are going to form the next government, now that people have had a chance to reflect on the debate and read in greater detail about the party's policies.


As always, it is worth pointing out that this was a highly unscientific exercise.

And although the brilliant sunshine had put most people in an almost holiday mood as they window-shopped in the High Street, or relaxed with their families on the common, there was the usual quota of cynics who said they would not be voting for anyone, as they were all crooks.

 Katie Paterson and Oliver Boots
Katie and Oliver disagreed on the impact of the debate

This included one man, loitering in the doorway of a bookmakers' shop, who said that after watching Thursday's debate he thought it was now time to "give fascism a try". He did not want to give his name.

Younger people seemed more engaged with the election and keen to talk, although very few admitted to having changed their mind after watching the TV debate, and were puzzled by the rapturous coverage given to Mr Clegg.

The first person I spoke to, Keeley Buston, a 34-year-old image consultant, had already made up her mind to vote Conservative.

"I was not impressed by any of them. Nick Clegg fared well because he was the underdog, but I have not got a lot of time for the Lib Dems.

"I will be voting for the Tories. My main reason for voting is to make change. I don't want another Labour government.

"I run my own business, I set it up in the middle of a recession and I am worse-off under Labour."


What was her professional opinion of the three leaders, as an image consultant?

"Out of all of them, Nick Clegg looked the most slick. Gordon Brown was appalling. He looked like someone was pulling a string to make him smile. Cameron was good, but they have all had so much training."

Cathy Potter, a 29-year-old primary school teacher, said: "I was really surprised with everybody when they said that Nick Clegg came out so strongly.

"It didn't strike me that he was by the far the best. Gordon Brown did really quite well, there was a lot of conviction in his voice."

She said she was "going to vote Lib Dem because I don't want the Tories to get in" but she added that she had "liked a lot of what Labour was doing with education over the past five years."

Like many people I spoke to, 55-year-old Tony Head, an IT consultant and father-of-four, was bewildered by the press coverage of the debate.

'Just a show'

"I don't think Clegg was outstanding, as everybody says he was.

"I think he had a prominent voice in the debate. I think the press as a whole were looking for somebody to put on a pedestal."

He said he had already decided to vote Lib Dem long before the debate due to local factors.

Katie Paterson, a 27-year-old oil and gas trader, found the debate a big turn-off, which if anything had made her less likely to vote for anyone.

"It was all just a show really. It wasn't honest, it was very much just showbusiness. I am not going to vote. I don't feel I have researched what they stand for and I think there is too much lying."

However, her boyfriend, 26-year-old car leasing executive Oliver Boots, said "I am more Nick Clegg than I was" after watching it.

All eyes are now on Thursday's debate when the Lib Dem leader may face a rougher ride from his two opponents.

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