Ruth Dudley Edwards: Lights, camera, action for the Third Man
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's performance has thrown Labour and the Tories into a spin, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
WITH two big stories, the British media are beside themselves with excitement. First, there are the hundreds of thousands of grounded airline passengers cursing a volcano (best joke so far: 'No, no, Iceland. What we asked you for was cash!').
Then Nick Clegg, the almost unknown leader of the small Liberal Democrats party, comfortably triumphed over Gordon Brown and David Cameron in the leaders' election debate on Thursday, throwing both the major parties into a panic.
What beats me is why anyone was surprised. The House of Commons has 646 MPs. It was an act of insanity for Labour (53 per cent of the seats) and the Conservatives (30 per cent) to agree to allow the Liberal Democrats (just under 10 per cent) to participate in these three debates. The Irish Labour Party has 12 per cent of TDs, but you wouldn't catch Brian Cowen or Enda Kenny giving Eamon Gilmore any unnecessary publicity. But then little old Ireland has been having leaders' elections debates for 30 years, and the parties know a thing or two, while the British have never done it before. Before every election, the leader of the opposition would ask for a debate, and the prime minister would refuse.