For the first time in more than 30 years, the traditional two-horse race for power between Labour and the Tories is turning into a three-way contest with Liberal Democrats suddenly emerging as serious contenders after the dramatic “victory'' of their leader Nick Clegg in last week's television debate with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron.

Two more debates

It was Britain's first brush with American-style political theatre and though there are two more debates to go before the polling day on May 6 it has electrified an otherwise dull campaign and, according to pundits, changed the dynamics of British elections for ever.

Mr. Clegg's impressive performance as the feisty outsider with nothing to lose against his baggage-heavy rivals has turned him into an overnight political star with one poll describing him as the most popular party leader since Winston Churchill, and sent his party's ratings soaring.

A Sunday Times poll put him neck- and -neck with Labour and Tories — just one point behind Labour and four behind the Tories. The latter stand to lose the most from the surge in Lib Dems' popularity as disillusioned Labour supporters in marginal seats, who were seen as potential Tory voters in this election, are now said to be considering backing Lib Dems.

The Liberal Democrats have no chance of winning the election but if they remain on course they can win enough seats to prevent either of the two main parties from getting a majority on their own, forcing them to seek their support to form a government.

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