In UK election debate Liberal Democrat Clegg shines again.

Although not so clearly a winner this time around he still seemed to do very well and was perhaps even best. The Conservative leader improved quite a bit. Although Clegg wants to distance UK policy somewhat from following the US line on foreign policy he still did not commit to any immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. He is just making some rhetorical flourishes to woo the anti-US anti-Afghanistan voters. This is from npr.


In U.K. Debate, Outside Candidate Shines Again
by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Nick Clegg proved he wasn't a one-hit wonder in Britain's second election debate Thursday, 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.

An initial poll gave Clegg a slight edge in the debate, but it appeared to be close to a three-way tie. Still, Clegg managed to keep some of his political stardust -- respondents said the Liberal Democrats' 43-year-old leader seemed the most honest.

Clegg shook up the race last week, emerging as a clear winner after giving a smooth and confident performance in Britain's first U.S.-styled election debate and boosting his party's profile.

Thursday's debate came as dozens of anti-war protesters and other activists clashed with police outside the studio hosting the prime-time duel. Pro-Palestinian groups outside protested Israeli incursions in Gaza. Others held placards that read "Troops Home!" There are some 10,000 British troops still stationed in Afghanistan.

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. The candidates' performances make the razor-close May 6 election even harder to predict.

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.

Rivals Compared To Children

Brown was on the attack for most of the debate, ridiculing Clegg and Cameron -- both 16 years his junior -- and at one point comparing them to his children. He also lashed out at Clegg, accusing him of being anti-American, and going after Cameron for being "anti-European."

"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 and who has questioned British "subservience" to U.S. interests, denied he was anti-American, but said Britain should reevaluate how it deals with its trans-Atlantic ally.

"It's an immensely important special relationship, but it shouldn't be a one-way street," he said. "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 favored Clegg by a tiny margin. About a third of viewers believed that Clegg won the debate, while 30 percent believed that Brown or Cameron won. The margin of error for that sample size is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Cameron, who gave a lackluster 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," he said. "I have seen these lies and they make me very, very angry."

Divisive Issues

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.

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.

Clegg criticized the strategy in Afghanistan and said troops needed better equipment. The party would support other operations if they were in the interests of Britain but, "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 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 $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 cooperation 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 decide how they feel about being a part of the European Union.

Clegg 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.

Candidates managed to get across their campaign mantras throughout the debates -- with the Conservatives warning that a hung Parliament and a coalition government could hurt the pound and Britain's credit rating and Brown insisting that a government shake-up could jeopardize an economic recovery.

The British electorate has reached an all-time low for trust in politicians after an expenses scandal last year tarred all three major parties.

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