So this time I had read other people's blogs, tweets and comments about it all before I actually watched it for myself. It was a bit less exciting for me than last week's because I knew there were no major gaffes coming up.
Anyway, I agree with what quite a lot of people have said in that the standard of both Cameron and Brown was higher. Clegg also did well; I would say he was at about the same level as last week but because the others had raised their game (I can imagine the hard work they put in behind the scenes for this) the relative positions were much more even.
I tried to be as unpartisan as I could (as far as that is possible in such a febrile election atmosphere where so much is at stake!) as I watched. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Both Brown and Cameron were careful to not explicitly state that they agreed with Nick (at least in any way that could easily be mocked afterwards) but there were a number of times when they basically did agree. They just didn't draw attention to it. An example that jumped out was respite for carers. Cameron's answer was almost identical to Clegg's on this but no indication of this was made.
- Brown was much, much better than last week. He actually came across as a bit human which he usually fails to do. He also actually managed to make some good points in a few places and was quite deft at turning things back onto both of his opponents. Even the "get real" line he used against Clegg was well delivered (although I of course don't agree with the sentiment).
- Cameron was also better than last week. He looked at the camera a lot more which was a help. I thought the way he slapped down Clegg on expenses was well done. I actually do think Clegg has a good story to tell on this and that Lib Dem MPs were not as bad as Labour or Tories but it is a difficult sell and I think it might be time to relegate that line now. It just gave Cameron the opportunity to appear more statesmanlike by claiming nobody was a saint which is of course true. Clegg was then on the back-foot expressing agreement with Cameron's riposte which I expect will not have played so well.
- I also thought that in the segment in the middle, Cameron, finally made a good-ish job of defining what his "big society" theme is now. I still think the policy is quite wishy-washy and would probably not come to very much in practise but I think the way he sold it would may come across well to some undecideds (if they don't think it through too much!).
- I thought Clegg's closing speech was masterful. It touched upon the feeling that really does seem to be growing in the country that this time, at last, something extraordinary could happen and a truly mould-breaking change could be on its way. He also implicitly addressed how he has been treated by the media in the last couple of days but in a very matter of fact "of course people with a vested interest are going to try and stop change". I even scribbled down the last two sentences as they were pitch perfect: "Don't let anyone tell you that this time it can't be different. It can!". That is about as neat a riposte to all the negativity as you can get I think.
I'm not going to score it but I think an average of the 5 polls I have seen probably have it about right with Clegg just pipping Cameron and Brown nipping at both their heels having made up a fair bit of lost ground on last week.
I just wanted to say one last thing which I expect people from other parties will dismiss as partisan cheer-leading but it is a feeling I really got watching this today that I honestly have never felt up until now. Maybe it is because of the movement in the polls. Maybe it is because I was watching the leader of my party speak following a week where in several polls we have for the first time in years actually been in first place in terms of vote share. But what I felt was that on that podium, standing in the middle with his completely unflappable resolve dealing with every question so well that he actually looked Prime Ministerial. There. I said it. And I mean it. That doesn't mean I think he will become PM. But I think he is now a plausible candidate for the office.
I wonder if that is a feeling that some of the undecideds watching that last night will also have had...