Leaders Last Chance – and Cameron blew it

Both Brown and Clegg have done well in the debate tonight on the public finances and the economy. Brown demonstrated his mastery and experience of the global economic issues whilst Clegg played his ‘anti-politics’ card well (although it is getting a little tired) and his ‘fairness’ pitch was well presented. Clegg is clearly the master of the TV debate format.

The format however did stifle the debate somewhat, and some useful exchanges between Brown and Cameron that started to look like they might illuminate some of the differences got cut short.

Cameron on the other hand seems to have been on auto-pilot – and a strange one. Gone is the Big Society (I don’t think it got a single mention) and back is the Big Market that will solve all our ills – just cut taxes and government spending and all will be well. Big attacks on “welfare dependency”. Very old school Thatcherite Tory.

Cameron’s also, as Jonathan Freedland tweeted during the debate, seems strangely inept at debating – he just dodges questions, even when a good response (from his point of view) is pretty obvious. He also endlessly repeated the word “grip” and the more he said it the more I felt like he was losing his. He clearly finds the format ‘challenging’.

Clearly Brown lost points by being the incumbent to whom at least some of the blame for the state of the economy, the financial crisis and the public finances must accrue. Clegg has the opposite problem  and some of their specific proposals are clearly ill-thought through and betray a certain inexperience. But as I said about the first debate it’s not who won, but who clearly lost. Three weeks ago David Cameron had a commending lead and everyone expected a Tory majority. That now looks like ancient history and tonight’s debate did nothing to reverse that – Cameron not only didn’t deliver a knock-out blow, he seemed to me to have lost on points to the other two.

I seriously doubt the polls tomorrow will shift very much – hung parliament here we go.

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