Nick Clegg echoes Obama in debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nick Clegg sounded like U.S. President Barack Obama on some major issues on Thursday as he tried to separate himself from rivals Gordon Brown and David Cameron at a spirited televised British political debate.

* Tensions were evident during the 90-minute event. Viewers saw the same sort of bickering that characterizes U.S. debates. Candidates turned to face each other and directly challenged positions.

* Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader who was shown to have gained the most in opinion polls from the first televised political debate a week earlier, stressed the need for bank reform, greater British engagement in the world, a clear mission in Afghanistan for Britain and a new nuclear policy at the debate in Bristol, England. These are all views that Obama has pushed for the United States, either as president or while still a candidate.

* Clegg’s rivals in the May 6 national election, Prime Minister Brown of the Labour Party and Conservative leader Cameron, at times ganged up on Clegg to try to score political points. Like Obama, Clegg said it was a mistake to invade Iraq. Like Obama, Clegg said climate change is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed swiftly with international action.

* And like Obama, Clegg said it was time to change nuclear policy from Cold War weapons, such as Britain’s Trident system, to the possibility of terrorists gaining nuclear weapons, a point Obama promoted last week at a nuclear summit in Washington. Clegg even invoked Obama’s name, saying: “President Obama said last week, I think quite rightly, that now the greatest threat to us is not the Cold War threat of old. It’s terrorists getting hold of dirty bombs.”

* This last point prompted the kind of slashing response characteristic of political debates in America, where the sharp retort is eagerly anticipated by viewers. “I have to deal with these decisions every day,” Brown said. “And I have to say to you, Nick: Get real. Get real. Because Iran, you are saying, might be able to have a nuclear weapon and you don’t take action against them.”

* Clegg, tried to tie Cameron to right-wing extremists, a standard debate tactic against conservatives in American politics. “How on earth does it help anyone in Bristol or anyone else in the country for that matter, David Cameron, to join together in the European Union with a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes -- that doesn’t help Britain,” Clegg said.

* Brown, the unpopular incumbent, tried to raise his stature by accusing both of his rivals of promoting risky policies that would weaken either British national security or its economic recovery. “This may have the feel of a TV popularity contest but in truth this is an election about Britain’s future. If it’s all about style and PR, count me out,” Brown said.

Editing by Howard Goller