Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats got a boost from the candidates' televised debates, but Thursday on election day his standing was diminished compared to promising figures released after the first debate.
Such an occurrence was anything but surprising. Followers of the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign saw a comparable phenomenon with Independent Party candidate Ross Perot. He received the post-debate spike rather than President George H.W. Bush or his Democratic Party challenger, then Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
It was explained that the debate was "Perot's convention bounce." There was more involved as well. With citizens disenchanted with the way the current two party structure was functioning, Perot's critical analysis of the status quo was welcomed as a breath of fresh air.
An identical situation occurred in the British televised debates. Articulate and telegenic Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, at 43 the same age as Senator Jack Kennedy was when he faced Vice President Richard Nixon in the historic 1960 U.S. presidential campaign debates, decried the current system in which leadership has moved back and forth between the Conservatives and Labour.
As election day drew nearer Clegg suffered the same fate as Perot in 1992. Amid fervent and frequent advertising messages and speeches from Conservative and Labour candidates and spokespersons, voters were warned not to "waste their votes" on a Clegg candidacy that did not possess sufficient strength to summon a parliamentary majority for the Liberal Democrats.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown suffered greatly in the joint television appearances against two 43-year-olds who conveyed the image of brisk and youthful efficiency. When he went on the attack to defend his stewardship he was perceived based on poll results as combative and negative.
The election night dramatics were incredible in that the BBC team covering the event never wilted despite being on camera in a grueling marathon that extended into morning. To make matters interesting they pursued devil's advocate manners in questioning the candidates and party chiefs who appeared on camera.
While Labour spokespersons were asked if they should abandon coalition efforts since they received a discernibly lower total vote than the Conservatives, Tory guests would be asked why the party could not summon, despite a troubled economy, to achieve a majority. Liberal Democrats would be asked why Nick Clegg had fallen from the lofty pedestal he occupied following the first debate.
An important philosophical question that sparked interesting exchanges was that of whether a party that wins the largest number of votes, in this case the Conservatives, deserves first opportunity to form a government.
A number of speakers pointed out that under the British system parties are free to discuss coalition formation despite their election vote totals. The more distant a first place party is removed from a strong popular vote total the easier it is to make the case that mixed voter disaffection resulted in such a wide split, and with it parties should be free to bargain.
While winning the largest number of seats with 306 at the time of this writing with 36.1 percent of the vote, the Conservatives stand at the same percentage figure as Tony Blair achieved in a very disappointing while winning effort in 2005.
The Labour total of 258 seats and 29 percent so enraged much of the party faithful that reports abounded throughout the London media of demands for Gordon Brown to immediately resign.
With Conservatives raising the point that they secured the largest number of votes, Labourites argue that the combined Labour and Liberal Democrat totals indicate a desire for a different direction than what the Tories would provide. Those two parties have a greater common interest, the argument runs.
Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats garnered 57 seats and 23 percent of the vote. Despite a disappointing figure compared to earlier campaign expectations, Clegg was thrust into the post-election limelight as prospective kingmaker. As leader of a third party in a nation long dominated by the two parties above him, proportional representation would understandably rank high on his wish list.
As this is being written negotiations are currently underway between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Conservative energy spokesperson Simon Hughes was appropriately mum when asked for details.
"Things are going properly," Hughes said. "Things are going carefully. I am not going to speculate. You'll just have to wait."