* Liberal Democrat Clegg basks in TV debate victory
* Upstages frontrunner Cameron, Prime Minister Brown
* Poll shows party gaining ground on larger rivals
(Adds details of poll)
By Estelle Shirbon
MANCHESTER, England, April 16 Britain's historic
TV debate between the candidates to be prime minister gave a
boost to little-known outsider Nick Clegg, whose Liberal
Democrats on Friday claimed a breakthrough.
More than 10 million people watched at least part of
Thursday night's live debate, a first in Britain and a defining
moment in the campaign ahead of a nationwide election on May 6.
Clegg was judged the winner in several instant polls of viewers.
Numerous media commentators, as well as the Liberal
Democrats, said the debate had ushered in a new era of
three-party national politics in Britain -- and a whole new
challenge for the fresh-faced Clegg, 43.
"Now that we've made this a three-horse race rather than a
two-horse race, they're going to be coming for us, we know that.
We've got to be ready for it," said Paddy Ashdown, a former
Liberal Democrat leader, speaking on BBC television.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party and
Conservative leader David Cameron, the frontrunner in the
election, would be much tougher on Clegg during the next two TV
debates, on international affairs and the economy, Ashdown said.
A ComRes survey for ITV News put national support for the
Lib Dems up three points on 24 percent, behind the opposition
Conservatives on 35 percent and ruling Labour on 28 percent.
It was the highest score for the LibDems in a ComRes poll
since the last election in 2005.
The Lib Dems are a centrist party who have pushed for tough
action to break up banks and for a 10 percent levy on banking
profits and tax breaks for the poorest. [ID:nLDE63D0YU]
BALANCE OF POWER
Most polls since January have pointed towards a "hung
parliament" in which no party has an overall majority of seats,
an outcome not seen in Britain since 1974 and dreaded by many in
the financial markets who would prefer a clear Conservative win.
Sterling weakened on Friday on the prospect that more voters
may be tempted by the Lib Dems. [ID:nLDE63F0VT]
"Markets will likely see the outcome of last night's
pre-election TV debate in the UK as increasing the possibility
of a hung parliament without in any way being decisive,"
Alastair Newtown at Nomura said.
The Lib Dems perennially are relegated to a distant third in
British elections because its voting system favours the two
larger parties that have been alternating in power since World
Brown, 59, is campaigning for a record fourth term in office
for Labour, while Cameron, 43, is fighting to take his party
back into office after 13 years in opposition.
Brown, whose best chance of clinging to power may be a hung
parliament and an alliance with the Lib Dems, tried during the
debate to be hard on Cameron and soft on Clegg, suggesting that
Labour and the Lib Dems agreed on many issues.
"I agree with Nick" became a catchphrase after Brown used it
seven times. Clegg was having none of it, though, attacking
Brown for what he described as 13 years of failure.
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(Editing by Michael Roddy)