Crucial economic figures which could have a decisive impact on the UK general election will be released today, following a TV debate last night in which none of the party leaders managed to deliver a knockout blow.
Instant polls following the Sky News debate in Bristol suggested that David Cameron and Nick Clegg were virtually neck-and-neck as viewers’ choice for victor on the night, while Gordon Brown registered a much-improved performance.
After accusations that they gave Mr Clegg too easy a ride in the first TV debate last week and allowed him to give the Liberal Democrats an unprecedented poll boost, both the Labour and Tory leaders took the gloves off.
Mr Clegg came under sustained attack from both sides for his positions on Trident nuclear weapons and immigration, but fought back fiercely, accusing the “two old parties” of letting Britain down on the Iraq War.
The Lib Dem leader’s poll ratings were well down on last week, when viewers rated him as dominating the debate by a wide margin. A Sky News poll of polls had the Tory and Lib Dem leaders tied with an average of 33% against the Prime Minister on 27%.
In a ComRes survey for ITV News, 36% of the 2,691 viewers questioned said they would vote Lib Dem on May 6, against 35% for Tories and 24% for Labour. If repeated on an even swing, this would produce a hung Parliament with Conservatives the largest party.
Today’s GDP figures for the first quarter of 2010 could have a massive impact on the election campaign, as they will indicate whether Britain’s economy is recovering strongly from recession or slipping back towards negative growth.
Solid growth figures would boost Mr Brown’s claim to have guided the UK successfully out of the worst recession since the 1930s. But, ironically, a stronger-than-expected performance could damage Labour’s chances by supporting Tory claims that the time is right to start bringing down the national debt.