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Leaders' showdown - why live television debates have earned a place in our general election campaigns

TV debates and their place in general election campaigns. Photo: ITV

They were like insurgent speed boats racing around the bigger tankers.

What struck me most from the Leaders' Debate was how our political horizon has suddenly changed.

The smaller parties with leaders less well known did absolutely everything they could to make themselves heard.

The bigger party leaders ignored them.

At times, you'd be forgiven for thinking David Cameron and Ed Miliband hadn't noticed Leanne Wood, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon were in the studio at all.

Labour and the Conservatives wanted this framed as a choice between the two men who could be prime minister - and they threw their biggest missiles at each other.

Mr Miliband did what he could to convince you he is ready to stand in front of 10 Downing Street.

David Cameron did what he could to show why there shouldn't be a change of occupant.

Nick Clegg admitted he'd done things wrong but this was not the time to allow Labour or the Conservatives to govern alone (you might have noticed his first attack was on the man with whom he'd been in government for the last five years).

And what of Nigel Farage?

The UKIP leader was characteristically blunt. Speaking in the direct way he does which has won him so many votes.

Was he right to mention HIV treatment for foreigners? Many analysts thought not. But remember, this man has made a political career out of saying things others disapprove of.

They clashed on the NHS. And immigration. And austerity.

Snap polls called it a tie.

So this two hour programme may not do very much to change this election - the tightest one for more than 40 years.

If Scotland thinks - like the polls show - that Nicola Sturgeon was among the winners, Labour support north of the border will continue to suffer an SNP assault.

If the plain speaking approach of Nigel Farage cuts through in a way the political classes just don't get - UKIP may succeed in more seats than expected.

Fascinating. Engaging. And also entertaining.

It shows why live television debates have earned their place (or more correctly its place) in our general election campaigns.

But it might have just made this most uncertain of elections that much more uncertain.

And the big tankers in that ocean might soon be unable to move without the help of the smaller boats around them.

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