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Leaders 'neck and neck' following fierce debate

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 23 April 2010

The press draws election battle lines between the three parties after a fiery leaders debate that saw Nick Clegg and David Cameron come out top in the polls.

Cameron, Clegg, Brown at the leaders debate

Instant polls following last night's leaders debate showed the Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders in a virtual dead heat as they batted for viewers' approval in the second prime ministerial debate.

Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown clashed over nuclear weapons, Europe, tax and climate in the 90-minute debate last night.

Surveys gave conflicting verdicts of the leaders' performance over whether Cameron or Clegg came out in top.

A Sky News poll of polls had the Tory and Lib Dem leaders tied with an average of 33 per cent, against the Gordon Brown on 27 per cent.

Angus Reid and an ICM post-debate phone poll for The Guardian handed victory to Mr Clegg while a Populus poll for The Times, based on the first 900 respondents, had Mr Cameron and the Lib Dem leader running neck-and-neck on 36 per cent. Mr Brown trailed on 27 per cent.

A YouGov survey for The Sun of 1,000 viewers found 36 per cent believed the Tory leader had performed best, against 32 per cent for Mr Clegg and 29 per cent for Mr Brown.

Papers divided

This morning's papers painted different pictures of the debate as the press remained divided over the debate's winner.

According to a first edition of The Times (pictured above, left) David Cameron and Nick Clegg were "neck and neck" in the polls after "an impassioned contest which turned personal". Later a second edition of the paper (above, right) declared "Cameron nicks it".

Gordon Brown was left behind in both editions after the gloves came off allowing Cameron to "reel in Clegg", the paper said.

Following yesterday's attack on the Lib Dem leader which saw him hit back at claims of a "Nazi slur", The Sun and the Daily Mail both published polls putting Mr Cameron in the lead as he "hit back to slow the Clegg bandwagon" after the Lib Dem's surge in the polls last week. Gordon Brown appeared the loser with just 29 per cent in both papers' polls.

The Daily Telegraph, headlined "Cameron fights back", said that the Tory leader gave "another strong performance" in the TV rematch where he styled himself as a premiere in waiting. Despite showing plenty of passion, the newspaper said, Gordon Brown failed to engage and struggled.

Cameron was also hailed in the Daily Express where the tabloid declared he "won with passion". Cameron was described as "the only leader who can change Britain".

The Financial Times said the election had become a three-horse race as Clegg stood firm in the debate which has "left the election wide open". Although Cameron and Brown clawed back much needed ground, the paper said, Clegg cemented his post as a serious player in the campaign.  

The Lib Dem leader "weathered the storm" according to The Guardian as he "kept the momentum" to keep ahead in the polls. The paper led with extracts from Clegg's closing statement in which he appealed with voters: "Don’t let anyone tell you that this time it can't be different - it can". The newspaper's poll by ICM put Cameron and Brown on equal footing with 29 per cent while Clegg remained ahead with a four point lead.

Despite the Conservative and Labour leaders' changing tactics and targeting the Lib Dem leader, Clegg held his own yet again, according to The Independent. The newspaper said Cameron and Brown fought desperately to halt Clegg's bandwagon as they "turned their guns" on the Lib Dem leader after his "triumph" last week.

The Daily Mirror said David Cameron was "on the ropes" after he "again trailed in third". The paper said Clegg and Brown were close in the polls after they "pummelled" the Tory leader who looked "weak and unconvincing".

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