Together with about 9 million others, I watched the first-ever British live debate between the main party leaders contesting the forthcoming General Election. And what, you may ask, did I make of the instant success of hitherto little-known LibDem hopeful Nick Clegg? Not a lot actually. Yes he has boyish charm and enthusiasm, nicely contrasting with Gordon Brown's forced smile and David Cameron's look-I'm-really-just-like-you manner. But almost anyone would have done well against those two. His line about the "two old parties" may come back to haunt him as those of us with some sense of history recall dear old Mr. Gladstone & his pals. What he really has going for him is that he is not laden by the baggage of either New Labour or the ghost of Mrs. Thatcher.
Voters have been drifting away from Labour for some time, but there does not seem to be a sense of real enthusiasm for the Tory altenative, certainly compared to the landmark election of 1997. It is remarkable how few survive from those days. Of all Cameron's team I think only William Hague saw office before. When Mrs. Thatcher toppled Callaghan's enfeebled government she had plenty of experienced men (and they were all men in those days) to call on. Now Labour can at least put forward a tried and tested, if not trusted, team [this alliteration is super: Ed]. But will electors fearful of recession and change cling to what they know? Is this the Safety First election to compare to 1931? There are signs that Labour are moving in that direction and I think this may be discomforting the Tories. But how does that help the LibDems? I suspect that the Clegg balloon will deflate as fast as it has gone up when people start thinking of whether things can really get better under a different administration.