Big two turn on Clegg as shock polls reveal lead
Lib Dems claim voters now want change from 'tired choices'
BUOYED by favourable opinion polls, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg claimed last night that voters were starting to believe that the UK general election on May 6 could produce a break from the "tired choices" offered by the two main parties.
He was speaking as a second poll put his party in the lead, with 33pc, against 32pc for the Tories and just 26pc for Labour. The YouGov survey found that Lib Dem support had risen three points since a similar poll last Friday. It is the first time YouGov has ever put the Lib Dems in the lead.
Both the main parties are now training their guns on Mr Clegg's party, as it started to appear possible that the surge in Lib Dem support was not merely a temporary blip in the wake of Mr Clegg's widely praised performance in last Thursday's historic TV debate.
In a speech in London, Conservative leader David Cameron warned that a vote for the Liberal Democrats risked allowing Gordon Brown to "limp on" in power.
"The only way to make sure we don't carry on with Gordon Brown is a decisive Conservative victory," he said.
The leaders of the two main parties spent the day scrabbling to rewrite their campaign plans as Mr Clegg's telegenic traction continued to give him a surge in the opinion polls.
Generals are fond of saying that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Neither the Tory nor Labour battle plans survived the first-ever televised debate of the three main party leaders last Thursday.
According to the latest ICM poll for the Guardian, the Lib Dems are now firmly in second place, having overtaken Labour, and they are now breathing down the Tories' necks.
It puts the Conservatives on 33pc, the Lib Dems on 30pc -- up 10 points in a week -- and Labour on 28pc.
Mr Clegg's surprise success in the televised debate and the chord that he has struck with the voters has caught Labour and the Conservatives totally unawares.
Meanwhile, in a campaign bulletin to Labour supporters, Peter Mandelson predicted that support for the Liberal Democrats would fade once the public came to understand their policy agenda.
"My bet is that most people will not follow through on their current flirtation with Nick," he said.
However, launching his party's green investment plans in Cardiff, Mr Clegg rejected Mr Mandelson's analysis and said voters were looking for something different from what they have been offered by what he described as "the old parties of the past".
He said: "The general election campaign is starting to come to life for the simple reason that a growing number of people are starting to believe, starting to hope, that we can do something different this time."
Mr Clegg dismissed as "a tired old claim" the suggestions that voting for the Lib Dems would simply let one of the bigger parties into power.
"A vote for the Liberal Democrats is exactly what it says on the tin," said Mr Clegg. "It is a vote for the Liberal Democrats. It is a vote for our policies -- nothing more, nothing less."
Asked if he truly believed he could be prime minister on May 7, Mr Clegg said he was "acutely aware" of the volatility of the polls but continued: "I want to be the next prime minister. There is a fluidity in this election we haven't seen for perhaps a generation."
He added: "All I know is that the old anchors, the old established routines of elections are breaking down."