It’s politics stupid! – a debate that failed to illuminate

Everyone is trying to answer who won last night leaders’ debate. For what it’s worth I believe it’s now an odd exercise to engage in. Though Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were much more animated, even aggressive at times, their modi operandi are now so well rehearsed that it’s difficult to penetrate the posturing enough to read who came out on top.
Clegg attempted to remain above it all and apart from the bickering of the other two. Gordon Brown banged away at his message that the Tories will put the recovery at risk while Cameron tried hard to keep to his own agenda, refusing to engage in many direct questions from the other two, and pushing his message that Brown is exhausted and out of ideas.
National Insurance, inheritance tax, fairness and capital gains tax all figured in last night’s spat.
What I think remained a disappointment, and perhaps I should not have hoped for anything else, was the dearth of detail about the cuts to come and how each party would fill the unexplained holes in their Budget cost saving plans identified by the Institute of Fiscal Studies earlier this week.
Both the IFS and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research now predict huge tax rises to come. And these are as yet unspecified by the main parties. Each is as guilty as the other in this. Do they have the plans?
All we have to go on is the relative sizes of the unexplained holes. The Tories have the biggest, according to the IFS, at £52bn, Labour next with £44bn the Lib Dems on £34bn.
We appear to be drifting into an election where somehow a single tax, national insurance, has become an absurd centrepiece when we know that swinging cuts and tax rises elsewhere, that are as yet unidentified, are on their way. How do you make a voting decision based on that given, in the words of Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville, “It’s the economy stupid” that’s important. Perhaps, as my colleague Kevin Reed, tells me: “That’s politics stupid.”
Economist Martin Wolf writing in the Financial Times today puts it like this: “For idealists who believe that democracy is about informed debate, this election has to be brutally disillusioning.”
For what it’s worth I believe Clegg still gives the best I’m-above-it-all rehetoric, Cameron does the best moody physical posturing while Brown at last sounded like he had some passion.

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