Politics Summary: Friday, April 23rd

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The focus now moves on to the economy ahead of the third and final leaders’ debate next Thursday, with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all in the hunt after yesterday’s foreign policy debate. With no one able to land a knockout blow, the parties are now neck-and-neck; the post-debate Guardian/ICM poll has the Clegg on 33 per cent, with Cameron and Brown on 29 per cent.

The rest of the press, however, divide along party lines, The Times saying “Cameron nicks it”, the Telegraph “Cameron fights back”, the Mail “comeback kid Cameron”, the Express “Cameron wins with passion”, The Sun “The Cam back kid” and the Mirror “Cameron flops again”, while the Financial Times says Cameron and Brown clawed back ground to leave the election “wide open”. Last night BBC political editor Nick Robinson blogged that “political reporters from the Tory-backing papers were called in one by one to discuss how Team Cameron would deal with “Cleggmania” and to be offered Tory HQ’s favourite titbits about the Lib Dems – much of which appears in today’s [yesterday’s] papers”.

During the debate, David Cameron’s links with far-Right extremists in Europe was raised, the first time many of those watching will have been made aware of them. Nick Clegg called the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping a collection of “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes”. Last night Left Foot Forward reported John Podesta, a leading US political adviser, had launched an attack on Cameron’s foreign policy. Podesta said: “under David Cameron’s leadership, the Conservative Party’s traditional Euro-skepticism has become more extreme. Consider, for example, his decision to have Conservative members leave the European People’s Party—the mainstream center-right grouping within the European Parliament that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP—to form a new parliamentary group with a maverick collection of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic members of the European Parliament. Beyond the obvious political symbolism this entails—it is hardly good for Britain’s prestige when its European parliamentarians sit with those who have argued the election of a black U.S. president hails the end of civilization—the decision also illustrates Cameron’s willingness to forgo political influence to placate extreme elements of his own party.”

The Independent reports the Tory-supporting Sun’s censoring of a poll that showed support for the Lib Dems. The paper “failed to publish a YouGov poll showing that voters fear a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative or Labour one”, reports the Indy, adding: “The Liberal Democrats accused the newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, of suppressing the finding… The party has taken comfort from YouGov’s unpublished finding that more voters would be delighted by the formation of a Liberal Democrat government (29 per cent), than by a Tory government (25 per cent) or a Labour one (18 per cent).” A Sun editorial on the day the poll was spiked read: “Mr Clegg is the political equivalent of a holiday romance. An exciting fortnight’s flirtation so long as you don’t ask too many questions. We cannot gamble the nation’s future like that.” The article also looks at the attacks on Clegg in yesterday’s papers and explains the truth behind the right-wing spin.

The leading international story is the sinking of a deepwater oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion caused by an oil blowout. Eleven workers are still missing, with growing fears for their safety. The Times reports that the spill “is being fed by an estimated 13,000 gallons of oil and gas that were pumping every hour from a pipe running up from an oil reservoir more than 2 miles (3km) beneath the seabed”. The rig collapsed and sank “after being engulfed by a fire that had blazed for more than 36 hours”. The Telegraph adds: “Officials said that before the explosion there were 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the semi-submersible platform and it had been drilling 8,000 barrels, or 336,000 gallons, of oil a day… The Coast Guard said a one mile by five mile slick had settled on the surface some 45 miles offshore as a massive clean-up operation gets underway to prevent the oil from hitting land in the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.” An environmental catastrophe is feared, a White House spokesman saying President Obama was treating the disaster as his “number one priority”.

And the Telegraph also reports that Britain is “expected to have avoided a double-dip recession” in the first three months of this year. According to a survey of City economists, Britain’s gross domestic product is expected to have expanded 0.4pc in the first quarter of 2010, matching the growth seen in the last quarter of 2009. The report says: “The estimate for the first three months is the first of three to be released by the Office for National Statistics. It will be closely watched by all three political parties as the economy dominates the election campaign. The next Government will be challenged with nurturing the fragile recovery as well as tackling Britain’s biggest Budget deficit since World War II… Signs that recovery – albeit a fragile one – is taking hold is likely to intensify debate when the massive stimulus measures deployed to prevent a depression are withdrawn.” A leading economist told the Telegraph: “Hard data and surveys indicate overall that economic activity bounced back pretty well in February and March after a serious hit in January from the weather.”

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