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Leaders' debate: Who won?


Alastair Campbell said it tonight: "We've had it". He insists he was talking about his beloved Burnley Football Club, but Labour too look doomed to relegation.

Who would have thought it? Cam the slick PR man won the final TV election debate on substance over style.

All the polls had him as the winner, with Clegg in second place and Brown a miserable third. What price the result next Thursday night will be the same?

 This was Cameron at his best tonight, performing how his aides have willed him to all along. On immigration, on welfare, on Europe and on tax - he had the answers. He looked like a leader tonight.

And it was Clegg who was exposed as all spin and no substance. He played his outsider card for all it was worth. It is the formula that has worked for him in the first two debates - I'm different, I'm not like the other two old discredited parties.

It works for him. It has seen him go from bit part-player to audaciously asking voters to make him the Prime Minister next week. But this time Cameron's substance won out over Clegg's spin. Clegg was found wanting tonight. This was the big one, the economy, the issue that will decide the election. And he didn't have the answers.

It is all very well playing the anti-politician in an age when voters hate politicians. But it only gets you so far. It worked fantasically in the first two debates, but it is not enough now. He started well tonight but he looked increasingly excluded and irrelevant.

Brown said it all. When you scratch beneath the surface, Clegg's policies fall apart. And what about Brown tonight? He was steady, he was passionate, he was the "serious man for serious times" that he keeps insisting he is.

Labour was desperate to move the debate away from bigot-gate and tonight did that. But it was not the game-changing performance it needed to be. In truth it was never going to be.

Before the debate even started tonight Peter Mandelson told me the verdicts had already been cast and the papers would write that Cameron was the winner whatever happens. They will, and he was.

2225 Alastair Campbell has caused a mini-storm after telling a security guard "We've had it".He insists he was talking about his beloved Burnley Football Club and not Labour.

2218 Cam wins according to the polls

YouGov have it DC 41, NC, 32 and GB 25. Angus Reid has it DC 36, NC 31, GB 23.

Mandelson is spinning that Brown "won the argument and won the debate". Doesn't look like it.

2203 Rumours that Cam has won it according to the Ipsos Mori poll. 

2200 Snap judgement? Cam wins on substance. Clegg on style. Clegg is rumoured to have played well in the focus groups tonight. But it was undoubtedly Cam's best performance. He looked like a leader tonight. Brown was steady, but it wasn't enough.

I am off to find out what the camps are saying. I will be back to let you know. Let the spin begin!.....

2145 Not a particularly inspired line, but for me Gordon Brown has just summed up the night telling Clegg his policies fall apart when you scratch beneath the surface. And his outsider shtick is frankly getting a little tiring now. Perhaps that is because as journalists we have been aware of Clegg for years whereas most people didn't even know of him a month ago. This is the big debate tonight Clegg, we need big answers.

Cam's attacks are more measured now and his comments will be chiming with viewers - on immigration, on benefits, on the economy and on social care.

Brown is steady tonight. But this is not the game-changing performance he needed. Mandelson has just oozed into the spin room and everyone is watching him rather than the debate. Is that a bad sign for Brown that he feels the need to spin before the final whistle?

21.23: Cam has always been the one branded "all spin and no substance". Tonight there is a danger of that label attaching itself to Clegg. He has played the outsider card consummately since the first debate. He does it brilliantly. Voters have lapped it up and he has seen his poll ratings soar.

But he is seriously asking the country to make him PM. And he doesn't have the answers.He is looking increasingly excluded and irrelevant as the debate plays out tonight. He has the style, but his policies - like the amnesty on illegal immigrants - are being shown up as flaky.

Cam has substance tonight. And he has answers. He has tackled immigration head-on, after being accused of swerving it for fear of looking like the nasty party. He is winning it on substance. His best performance so far. 

2115 Divergence of opinion in the spin room - among the journos, as well as the spinners!

Clegg is playing the outsider card. But it risks making him look excluded. Can he keep playing at being the outsider? It has worked for him up till now, but are people still convinced by that line? This is the biggest issue of the election - the economy. And Clegg simply doesn't have the answers. He risks looking irrelevant.

This is definitely the most confrontational debate so far and Cam and Brown are really fired up.

Cam has had the best lines tonight and he is more on his game than he has been in the first debates. There is real fire in his belly. Whenever he has needed to pull a great performance out of the bag, he has delivered. He is getting his message across tonight.

2055 This is looking pretty good for Clegg. He knows what worked for him in the first two debates and he is sticking with his winning formula. Looking straight at the camera, using questioners' names and playing the consensual card.

Politicians have slumped in the nation's opinions and Clegg knows that playing the anti-politician is his trump card. Yes, his policies are bonkers. He knows the voters won't swallow them. If he can persuade them he is the outsider that is his way of getting a share of power. And the other two are handing it to him on a plate tonight. "Here we go again," he has just said.

Cam and Brown are kicking lumps out of each other. Brown is trying to scare voters away from the Tories. And Cam is biting, branding Brown desperate and rubbishing his record. They should have learned from the first debates that viewers hate this yah-boo stuff.

20.36: Brown's strategy seems to be clear. 

He is on the attack and it is Cam in his sights. Throughout the campaign Labour has tried to frighten people into voting Tory and that is tonight's battle-plan. Brown says he won't cut frontline services - subtext: Cam will. 

A withering attack on Tory plans. Interestingly he is leaving Clegg out of this though.

Brown is animated and dynamic tonight and he is avoiding the glut of statistics his aides fear he would splurge.

Clegg is playing his "get-together" card again, calling for all parties to get together to sort out the economy. That is what worked for him in the first debate, and he knows it. 

The voters loved his new approach, outsider play. Biggest laugh of tonight from the press room was for his "let's avoid political point-scoring" line. We all knew it was coming

20.32: Cameron out of the blocks with "I would never join the euro". This is not going to be an "I agree with Nick" night then,,,

20:20: Spinning already well underway. Just had a quick chat with Peter Mandelson who says tomorrow's front pages have already been written and they will declare Cam the winner "come what may". Surely not downplaying expectations already?

There is a certain amount of relief among the Labour spinners actually. They desperately want to move the story off the bigot row and tonight is their opportunity.

Let's get ready to rumble. It's Birmingham and there is less than half an hour to go before the third and final round of the electric winner-takes-all leadership debates. 

And the News of the World is ringside....Well, perhaps not ringside, but in the very cheap seats that pass for the spin room. The place is buzzing. You can't move for spin-doctors, already spinning away before their fighters have even entered the ring. 

There are Brown spin chiefs and even some Blair era spinners. They have their work cut out tonight. Cameron has Michael Gove and William Hague working the hacks. 

And Nick Clegg's right-hand man Danny Alexander is here, still pinching himself that he really is in this fight. Will bigot-gate Gillian Duffy get her fourth apology, or is it fifth...we've lost count. Just how will Brown handle the inevitable immigration question. This should be his best night - the economy debate. His time to show he is that serious man for serious times.

Will Clegg keep his yellow bandwagon rolling? Will Cameron finally deliver the performance his team has been waiting for? Can it get any worse for Brown? We will be here, in the spin-room every step of the way.  Stay with us. The bell is about to ring....


Substance Labour's latest billboard. What kind of substance has Gordon been in today?

I'm here in Birmingham to bring you the instant reaction and behind-the-scenes gossip from tonight's final leaders' debate.

I'll be keeping you up-to-speed with the latest news and views from the spin room.. and you can let me know how you think the three leaders are doing by using the comment button below and voting in our poll.

Join Richard Dimbleby and me, on BBC1, from 8.30pm.

Bigots welcome.



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