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David Cameron wrests back (some) control in second UK debate

A hung parliament after May 6 elections looked more possible after the second UK debate on foreign policy and domestic issues. One snap poll named Conservative candidate David Cameron the winner, while another gave the nod to Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. Prime Minister Brown struggled.

By Danna HarmanCorrespondent / April 22, 2010

Conservative Party leader David Cameron (l.) talks while Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown (r.) look on at the second of Britain's leadership election debates in Bristol, southwest England, Thursday.

Stefan Rousseau/Reuters

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Manchester, England

The first snap polls following Thursday night’s debate between the three political candidates in Britain showed Conservative leader David Cameron sounding more confident and relaxed than he did at last week's debate, wresting some control of the conversation back from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

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But the Lib Dems’ star clearly was still rising, as Mr. Clegg – standing between Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown – put up a strong fight in response to attacks from both sides. He was pronounced the victor in one poll, and came in second, after Cameron,in another.

A dour-looking Mr. Brown used his opening remarks to remind viewers that this was not a popularity contest. He consistently tried to bring attention to his experience, saying at one point that the two others reminded him of “my two young boys squabbling at bath time."

He came in last in one poll and tied for second in the other.

The YouGov poll for The Sun showed 36 percent of viewers thought Cameron won the debate, with 32 percent in Clegg’s camp and 29 percent leaning toward Brown. A ComRes poll for ITV put Clegg in the lead with 32 percent, as the two other contenders tied at 30 percent.

Afghanistan, climate change, and pensions

The 90-minute televised debate in Bristol, which focused on foreign policy in the first half and domestic matters in the second, saw the leaders looking right into the cameras – a strategy pioneered last week by Clegg – as they appealing directly to viewers with their positions on everything from Afghanistan to climate change, nuclear deterrence and pensions for the elderly.

It was an animated and at times aggressive debate. At one point Brown accused Cameron of being “anti-European,” and at another called Clegg "anti-American." Clegg, meanwhile, attacked Cameron's European allies, describing them as "nutters,” “anti-Semites,” and “homophobes,” and Cameron turned on Brown, saying it was "disgraceful" of the prime minister to try to frighten people about what the Conservatives would do in power.

Asked about whether a hung parliament, with cooperation between “talent” from all parties, might not be best for Britain, Cameron responded in the negative, saying it would impede government’s ability to be decisive. Clegg, obviously, said he was for the idea.

After winning the first debate last week, expectations had been raised for Clegg, explains Andrew Russell, a lecturer in politics at Manchester University. “Clegg withstood the pressure and did a great job, which means Britain is all that much closer to getting a hung parliament.”

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