Accessibility links

Breaking News

Second British Prime Ministerial Debate to Focus on Foreign Policy

The debate spurred a surge in voter registration, especially among young people. Some polls are showing the three parties running even.

The leaders of Britain's three main political parties will debate for a second time Thursday. It is the second debate of its kind in British political history and will focus on foreign policy. The debates are changing the landscape of the British election process.

The first debate between Britain's three main party leaders, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labor Party, Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg took place a week ago. Stephen Coleman of the political communications department at Britain's University of Leeds says the event went better than he had hoped.

"They really did debate, there was a lot of substance, there was a very intensive 90 minutes," he said. "The candidates were feeling the strain and the audience felt a kind of sense of excitement that I would not have anticipated."

The May 6 general election is expected to be the closest in decades, with polls suggesting that no party will win an outright majority. Audience members in Thursday's 90-minute live debate will get a chance to question Misters Brown, Cameron and Clegg, whose winning performance in Britain's first U.S.-styled televised debate last week gave his party an unprecedented boost in polls.

Coleman says that made for good entertainment. "The emergence of the underdog as a star, the outsider putting the big guys in their place. It is the kind of drama one expects to see on reality TV shows, and here it is creeping into politics in a way that certainly has excited people," he said.

The debate spurred a surge in voter registration, especially among young people. Some polls are showing the three parties running even. Coleman says that is new, too.

"This situation in which you have got three parties with equal shares of the vote really closely tied to the performance of the third party in the debate is absolutely unprecedented in British politics, we have never seen a situation like this," he said.

Thursday's debate will focus on foreign policy. Analysts say no one has an inherent advantage in those areas.

Tony Travers is a political scientist at the London School of Economics. "The big foreign policy issues appear to be Britain's relationship with Europe and the euro, Britain's relationship with the United States, and also questions of the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent," he said.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are also expected to be included in the debate. With the three parties running so close, each candidate will be hoping to distinguish himself as a clear leader, in the hope of pulling ahead and avoiding a hung parliament - where no one party wins a majority of seats.