Third Party Knocks Labor Down to Third Place

A volcanic eruption isn't the only event causing chaos in the UK.

Long an election season staple in the U.S., the UK saw it’s first prime ministerial debate last week. It was also the first time that the leader of a British third party was given the same exposure as a Labor or Conservative leader. Just being included was a big victory for Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and 9.4 million Britons tuning in was a bonus.

By all accounts it was a lackluster debate, but Nick Clegg was declared the clear winner (click here for a video recap), and the Liberal Democrats have managed to turn this into a huge poll gain. Labor has now dropped to third place.

Clegg did well enough that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron were moved to praise him. The First Post stated:

Nick Clegg wins by a mile, as Brown appears to gang up with Lib Dem leader against David Cameron.

Others were not so thrilled with Clegg, but see why he won:

So how did the candidates fare? Well, Nick Clegg was judged the winner by the commentariat, and opinion polls. I don’t disagree -- his anti-politics, "let’s be honest here" shtick worked well -- but Clegg still left me cold.

All three parties are literally neck and neck in the polls, though speculation has turned to whether or not the Liberal Democrats can hold on to the gains. Labor and the Conservatives have focused their rhetoric on the Liberal Democrats, and Cameron has even begun to speak of “the dangers” of a hung parliament.

Some caution that the Conservatives are paying too much attention to Clegg and his party’s surprising surge:

Cameron needs to win over the initiative and quick, he needs to offset the momentum gained by Clegg and make it clear to the electorate that a vote for the LibDem’s is still a vote for Labor. He needs to bring back the discourse in his election back to the "power to the people" message he excellently gave at the manifesto launch.

And others remind Cameron that he must clarify his message to distinguish himself from the other two parties:

One former Conservative minister said that it was “genuinely bewildering” that Labor was so close to the Conservatives, raising fears that the country could face a hung parliament after the election.

“We are in a genuinely bewildering situation,” he said. “We have got a government that's so discredited, and a prime minister who's quite clearly incapable of doing the job properly, who is beset by nauseating rows. It is quite astonishing that we are not doing better."

There are two more debates between now and the election. We shall see if Clegg can sustain his popularity.