Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Leaders debate: crunch time for Cameron

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 22 April 2010

David Cameron is the man with everything to lose, says former GMTV boss Peter McHugh, as the Conservative leader warms up for tonight's second live TV debate with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg.

Leaders' debate part two

"We haven't ever taken the Lib Dems seriously as a party and Clegg as a person, and now it's not funny." David Cameron of the Tory Party? No, David Williams of Ladbrokes.

A week is a long time in politics but a short time at the bookies. And they are off again tonight.

How the world has changed in just seven days. Manchester United are back in the race for the Premiership and David Cameron could be out of it.

Nick Clegg's success in the leadership debate has confounded and continued in the polls.

Gordon Brown hoped that playing the Ark Royal card would do for him what it did for Mrs Thatcher. It appears just to have done for him.

So is it all over? Absolutely not! There are still two whole weeks of mistakes to be made before polling day, and we will see some in "the leaders debate, episode two" tonight - or at least some of us will.

Debate Two is at 8pm on Sky News, a service not available to all, and a decision surely as regretted by the BBC and ITV nearly as much as the Tories and Labour regret letting the Lib Dems take part in the first place.

Gordon, because of his eye problem, remains rooted on camera right but Nick Clegg, now on a roll, has the much favoured centre spot so wasted by David Cameron last week.

The spin doctors for the two main parties desperately need to turn the debate away from style to substance.

The Tories, still reeling from their fall from grace, must shoot down the chances of a hung parliament but cannot afford to offend voters by repeating the mantra "vote Lib Dem, get Gordon".

Labour, desperate for the voters to do exactly that, cannot be too blatant in their encouragement.

So that leaves policies, and for the first time the Lib Dems' manifesto will get centre stage. Saving £17bn and spending it in selective tax cuts runs smoothly off the tongue but needs more than fleshing out if it's a policy on the table of a hung parliament. (Read more from Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum who analyses the Foreign Policy agenda ahead of tonight's debate).

More interesting however is the £80bn they say could be saved by scrapping the Trident nuclear programme.

Tories and Labour officially back it, but the world changed again earlier this week when a clutch of former generals came out in support of the Nick Clegg position. That at least fell nicely for him because the debate tonight is focusing on foreign affairs - an area where he could be vulnerable.

He will have to defend his adherence to the Lisbon treaty and, more worryingly, membership of the euro - not the best place to be at the moment!

The trouble for the spin doctors is that unlike the old politics of the post war years, post Blair politics has much fewer marked differences.

The Tories backed the "illegal" invasion of Iraq and expanding operations in Afghanistan, although they can bite Gordon's bum over his spending record on the troops.

But given the chance, at least half the Labour party would back scrapping Trident. The plans of both Tory and Labour strategists are to try to refocus on policy tonight, but there is no guarantee that this debate will not end up like last week with the focus yet again on what our leaders stand like, not what they stand for.

That means the man with everything to lose is David Cameron. As Alex Ferguson might say: "It's squeaky bum time." The Tories cannot believe just how badly last week went.

Almost without trying, Clegg stole his "easy on the eye" young man's mantle. Dave looked almost as out of touch and out of fashion as Gordon.

The panic has spread to their Fleet Street backers. The Sun could at least fall back on the ash from Mount Unpronounceable last Friday to avoid calling Nick Clegg the winner.

The Daily Mail and the Telegraph have done their best to expose Nick, the Westminster School banker's son, the class traitor turned Lib Dem - but stand by this week for journalistic depths as yet unplumbed.

They won't let this one go without a fight as evidenced by the slew of allegations putting Nick Clegg under the microscope from "Nazi slurs" in the Mail to donations into his personal bank account in the Telegraph (Clegg under the microscope). Yet even they cannot keep doing it. James Murdoch wants it to be "the Sun wot won it" again for the Tories, but he and his mates will not keep backing a loser. After all, they have their readers to think about!

Dave has to be seen to win tonight - and win good - or the game could be up. Most people will not watch. Many cannot because it's on Sky News, even with the promise of Gordon in high definition.

There is Emmerdale and Coronation Street to see on ITV, Watchdog and Outnumbered on the BBC, and football on Five.

So many will take a lead from tomorrow morning's newspapers, but Dave cannot leave that to be his last chance. Unfortunately for him, the Murdoch writ does not yet extend across all the media, and the News at Tens will already have declared a winner.

Nick needs to do as little as possible because most of those who decided he was worth supporting last week will have better things to do than watch him, or the others, again.

As for Gordon, all he has to do is not fall over. If Dave has everything to lose, Gordon has nothing. Everything he touches seems to go wrong. And yet, with the sweetest of ironies, he could still end up on 7 May, rictus grin intact, on the front and not the back steps of Number 10.

As his dad must have told him so many times back in the manse in Scotland: "And the last shall come first." But of course there's always next weeks debate.

Peter McHugh is the former director of programmes at GMTV and was this year awarded the Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Vote 2010 news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Winners and losers


What can we expect from the Con-Lib Dem coalition government?

Cabinet connections

The Con-Lib coalition Cabinet (Reuters)

Who Knows Who looks for "new politics" in the Con-Lib Cabinet

Marriage of convenience

Wedding cake (Getty)

Can former political rivals make the Con-Lib coalition work?

Missing women?


With four women cabinet members has old politics really ended?

The rise and fall of Brown


The events that defined and ended Brown's political career.

Sibling rivalry?


Who Knows Who finds out who could replace Gordon Brown.

Loss leaders

Jacqui Smith (Getty)

Jacqui Smith is one of several high- profile election losers.

Election night in 60

Blue Big Ben

From single-party rule to a hung parliament in one minute.

Election results - live blog

Live blog teaser

Missed the day? Read our live blog to see how it happened.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.