The great chancellor debate

I hate to do the publicity for them but Channel 4 will be hosting a three-way debate between chancellor Alistair Darling and his opposite numbers George Osborne and Vince Cable on Monday evening at 8pm.
The prime ministerial debates have received much attention but, for the profession, Monday’s showdown between the three candidates for FD of UK plc is a big one.
I’ve been wondering how it will turn out? Straw polls of Accountancy Age readers in the past have revealed Cable to be a favoured choice for chancellor in the event of a hung parliament, but the debate will be a big moment for all of them.
All three will have particular issues they will have to overcome. Darling will be pushed on his plan for cutting the deficit. That’s the big issue in the run-in to the election and if he can’t answer the question he might end up sounding horribly evasive. We keep hearing he has a plan, but we’ve seen precious little detail.
Osborne will find himself pushed on whether he will rush headlong into sorting the deficit without thinking too much about its effects on the economy. Would he plunge us back into recession by acting prematurely? Darling will certainly claim that timing, really is everything and that Osborne needs watch.
As for Cable, he’s one of the few to have had a good crisis. But in debate he could risk sounding overly cerebral, strong on detail but potentially weak on the resounding soundbites needed to woo an electorate short on attention and in need of reassurance.
At this stage Osborne looks the weaker of the three. His personal profile probably isn’t working for him. Darling has a record and a Budget to defend, he could be assailed from many directions.
Looking at things dispassionately, who would be surprised if Darling and Cable spend most of their debate time lattacking Osborne? Both will feel they really need to remove him as a credible option from the debate. Darling because Labour are fighting for survival. Cable because if he has any hope of being in power it will be through a hung parliament and coalition government. And he’d prefer to do that with Labour than he would with the Tories.
In a way such an attack would be a backhanded compliment to Osborne, which neither Darling or Cable will find comfortable or deserving. Political expediency, however, will I suspect, put them in the frame of mind to savage him.
So it should be fascinating to watch.

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