Gordon Brown is really, really terrible as a public figure. Every time he wags his head scoldingly "No, No" when the opponents are speaking, he must lose another 500 votes. No policy judgment here. Just saying that -- based on this sample, plus these past few days' "bigot" disaster -- this is someone with neither aptitude nor (apparently) training as a TV-era public figure. The more that the general election becomes "presidential," the harder it is to imagine that people will choose to have him around for a few more years as the main figure to listen to in the news.
The Economist's political correspondent:
I thought Clegg edged the first half, but then faded a bit as he was interrogated on immigration. The smugness of the Tory aides milling around the place seems authentic; they're sure their man won won (though as Bagehot notes, that is not the same as winning by enough to pull away from the Lib Dems in the polls). I will sign off with a bit of unEconomist-like gossip: Alastair Campbell overheard saying "We've had it now" as he left the spin room.
Martin Kettle's verdict:
The central character in the three-man drama that has so energised British politics this month is neither Brown nor Clegg but David Cameron. It is Cameron who, after a bad debut two weeks ago came back with a stronger performance last week and who, in Jeremy Hunt's phrase, faced the most important job interview of his life. You may not want to know this, but my impression is that most viewers will judge that he passed. Better start getting used to it.
Earlier today Alastair Campbell said Brown had to show he was "better placed to secure the economic recovery than Cameron or Clegg" and that he had to "press this home like his life depended on it". I thought that he was better than he was in either of the first two debates. But he needed to upturn national opinion. He didn't. It was probably an impossible task for anyone. We are where we were.
I think Cameron did pretty badly, but of course that could just be because I find less to like in his platform than in the others'. Although I do note that he was the first to say he agrees with President Obama's ideas about financial regulation. Which just goes to prove that your right in the UK and our right in US are two rather dramatically different beasts.
That was the David Cameron I wanted to see. Passionate, full of conviction, positive, more combative. It wasn't a slam dunk victory, but it was never going to be. But it was a clearcut victory - more so than last week. It was his best performance of the three, whereas I felt that Brown and Clegg put in their weakest performances of the three, although I am not diminishing Clegg's appeal. His was still a comparatively good performance, but I thought he was in danger of overgoing the "two old parties" line in the first twenty minutes. He became irritating. Well, I found it irritating, at least. On two questions he floundered badly - immigration and housing. At the end he was reading notes during his final statement.
Gordon Brown tanked badly. Anyone who thinks he didn't wasn't watching the same debate as me.
The Conservatives did not secure their Parliamentary majority tonight, and Brown recovered enough from recent setbacks to ensure that there will not be a humiliation of Labour, although it is doubtful he did enough to bring in the largest number of seats next week. Unless a major Fear Factor of coalition government scares away voters from the Liberal Democrats, Britain will have its first “hung Parliament” in almost 40 years.
So that's the second time that immigration has had a major impact upon proceedings this week. Until we came to the question on that topic, I thought Clegg was bossing the TV debate. He was clear, personable and managed to hover elegantly above Brown and Cameron's dusty brawl over spending cuts. But as soon as it came to clarifying Lib Dem policy on an amnesty for illegal immigrants, the wings rapidly fell off the yellow bird of liberty. All of a sudden, Clegg sounded rattled and unpersuasive. From then on in, it was Cameron's game.
Nick Clegg gave his weakest performance of the three debates tonight. On housing, he had no real policies, just complaints. On immigration, his attacks on Cameron were effective, but his amnesty too easily torn apart by Brown. His attempts to show himself as different to the other two men were over-rehearsed and over-repeated, and grating.
If Clegg was weaker this week Cameron was stronger. This was, by some distance, his best performance and he did enough to finish the winner on my scorecard. This had less to do with his advocacy of Conservative policies - by now we all know what their plans are - but because, at last, he offered an effective rebuttal to Gordon Brown's near-endless supply of half-truths, absurdities and outright falsehoods.
Brown, if we are honest, was solid, especially given the circumstances; but he was not electrifying. He appeared to do his best. But it may not have been the electrifying performance he needed. Surprisingly to some, Brown almost exclusively "went negative" in his final statement, adding to the -- perhaps unfair -- impression that he has a less positive, more desperate message to convey. It is a shame, some Labour activists must believe, that Brown didn't have more to say about his vision for an exciting, progressive next term.
(Image: Students at Birmingham University brave the rain to watch an outdoor screening of the leaders third and final televised debate on April 29, 2010 in Birmingham, England. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)