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Election debate: Spin begins as cameras stop rolling

It was always going to be difficult for the army of political spinners involved in last night's debate to predict the outcome.

But not even the most imaginative Tory aide would have imagined that less than two hours after the cameras stopped rolling, George Osborne would be giggling away at a Tory attack advert depicting Gordon Brown as Little Britain's most annoying teenager, Vicky Pollard.

The image of the Prime Minister, kitted out with the blond wig and tracksuit, was mocked up in record time, with the slogan: “Did I lie about the dodgy leaflets? Yeah but no but yeah but.” As soon as the debate ended, Michael Gove, a key Cameron aide, led a fierce attack on Mr Brown for issuing leaflets that “lied” about Tory policies.

During the debate, it had seemed that, after a week that had seen Nick Clegg catapulted into the role of Britain's Barack Obama, the other parties had decided he was the main target for the evening. It was not long before the arrows were being fired at Mr Clegg from the harbour-side media centre, the designated “spin ally”.

Team Cameron ridiculed his comments on improving the European Union. “What a cheek. Clegg trying to present himself as a eurosceptic,” one said. William Hague did not mince his words. “Nick Clegg has no clue what he would do about maintaining a nuclear deterrent.” Labour HQ chose to go for him over his opposition to nuclear energy.

There was no response from the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps they were taking a breather. In the hours before the debate began, they were still dealing with the fall-out of an assault on Mr Clegg by the pro-Tory press.

Finally, after the final whistle, the Liberal Democrats broke their silence. “I thought Nick Clegg was the winner,” said an eerily calm Chris Huhne. “He showed the conviction that people expected. That's my hunch.”

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