The second UK leaders debate has just wrapped up, and all eyes were on overnight success Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. Could he pull off an encore of his hit debut performance?

Judge for yourself. Read the leaders’ speeches here, or watch all the action:

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An early YouGov/Sun poll has it 36% David Cameron, 32% Nick Clegg, and 29% Gordon Brown, while the Times/Populus poll has it 37% to Cameron, 36% to Clegg and 27% to Brown. This suggests the public didn’t think it was quite the Clegg walk-over seen in the first debate — but pundits’ opinions are mixed:

In The Guardian, Michael Tomasky says:

It wasn’t a slam dunk this time around, but it sure seemed to me like Nick Clegg probably won again, no?

Martin Kettle says Clegg held his own, but it wasn’t a “game changer”, while Simon Hoggart says they were all just phoning it in.

In the Telegraph, Nile Gardner is much more critical of Clegg’s performance, saying his weakness on foreign policy were laid bare and looked “fundamentally out of touch with the realities of an extremely dangerous world”, while Janet Daley says Cameron won and Clegg was “outclassed”, and Benedict Brogan says Cameron won “by a mile”.

The Economist says Clegg won for two reasons:

First, he doesn’t have to win, to win: he just has to persuade people that he deserves the parity this forum gives him, and relatedly that there is a real three-way choice at the election. He did.The second reason is the one my friend and colleague has already mentioned: hope v fear. There is a lot of fear being peddled by both Brown and Cameron, about the recession, the “jobs tax” etc. Both try to slip in a bit of hope now and again, but they are often preoccupied with scaremongering about what the other would do. At the moment, Clegg has most of the hope market to himself.

The BBC‘s Mike Sargeant says there was no clear winner, though Brown and Cameron failed to land any damaging blows on the Lib Dem leader.

In the Financial Times, Phillip Stevens says all three debaters were strong, but none had the clear edge.

The Sun calls it a “slam dunk” for Cameron, saying:

The Liberal Democrat leader looked hopelessly out of his depth as he struggled to defend potty proposals on cutting nuclear weapons.

The Times editorial says Brown was the big loser, while Ben Macintyre says the debate confirmed that this election will be the “closest and most unpredictable for a generation”.

Don’t miss Crikey‘s own Guy Rundle giving his own unique take on the debate in today’s Crikey Daily Mail.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey