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Five years ago, Nick Clegg was the outsider who stormed to victory in the first TV debate. This time the winner is the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, followed by Nigel Farage in second place

In total, just 43% voted for one of the three main party leaders (counting Mr Clegg’s Lib Dems as “main”), while 57% voted for one of the other four parties.

The main reason for the poor showing of the insider party leaders is that only a minority of their own party supporters reckoned their own party leader performed best: 47% of Conservatives awarded victory to David Cameron; just 38% of Labour supporters said Ed Miliband was the most impressive leader; as for Mr Clegg, his figure among Liberal Democrat supporters was a mere 20%.

In contrast, Mr Farage and Ms Sturgeon were seen as winners by clear majorities of Ukip and SNP supporters. That said, whereas Mr Clegg won his victory five years ago with a score of well over 50%, the winning percentage in this seven-way contest was below 30%. This suggests that the debate will have only a limited impact on the result of the election, except perhaps in Scotland (which has its own debate next week).

Mr Farage will hope, and Mr Cameron will fear, that Ukip will receive a boost from the Ukip leader’s narrow lead over the Prime Minister. However much, or little, impact this debate ends up having on next month’s election, it has undoubtedly provided a unique moment in Britain’s political history.

With the domination of two parties being challenged as never before, millions of voters have watched incumbents and insurgents engaged in mouth-to-mouth combat at the gates of our political system. It is a spectacle that may never be repeated.

This commentary first appeared in The Times

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