LONDON — An unpredictable British national election has become more uncertain, with an unexpectedly stellar debate performance from the leader of the Liberal Democrats sending the perennially third-ranked party to first place in some polls.
Nick Clegg’s party has leapfrogged the main opposition Conservatives — who most had expected to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s governing Labour party after 13 years in office.
Clegg’s relaxed style and sharp attacks on Britain’s two major parties won him, by virtually every assessment, the country’s first ever TV debate last week.
Clegg attacked Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron as being part of an old consensus in British politics that allowed a lawmakers’ expense scandal and failed to anticipate the financial meltdown. He also charmed viewers by referring to audience members who asked questions by name, in a style reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s.
“The more they attack each other, the more they sound the same,’’ Clegg said of his two major rivals as the three leaders debated Thursday, watched by 9 million viewers.
An opinion poll by BPIX, published Sunday, put the Liberal Democrats up 12 points to 32 percent. Cameron’s Conservatives fell seven points to 31 percent and Brown’s Labour sat third with 28 percent. In a poll yesterday by ICM for The Guardian newspaper, the Liberal Democrats were up 10 points to 30 percent, behind the Conservatives but ahead of Labour.