Here are the verdicts on how it went:
Very well chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Cable frequently got applause. Darling held his ground well, but Osborne often weak and looking shifty. No-one got in a killer blow that will shift lots of people’s views, but debate will have confirmed praise for Cable and doubts about Osborne.
Other people’s verdicts
- The audience: I make it 6 rounds of applause for Cable, 3 for Darling and 1 for Osborne
- The journalists: “Audience pretty much unanimous cable won, hacks too privately, but many sticking to party lines in their copy” – Daisy Mcandrew (ITV Economics editor)
- “Vince Cable reinforced his reputation – telling the truth for example on the income gap being worse than when the Tories left office. Alistair Darling, on the other hand, boobed on the death tax. And George Osborne remains confusing on child tax credits” – Channel 4′s Fact Check
- Cable “man of the match” – Garry Gibbons on Channel 4 blog
- “It’s a clear win for Cable” – Guardian
- “Cable triumphs” – New Statesman
- “The first thing I’d do tomorrow is go down to the bookies and put some money on the Lib Dems doing better than we realise on May 6″ – Benedict Brogan, Telegraph
- “Cable threw and landed the most punches. But the fact the other two didnt even bother to discuss Lib Dem policy was telling” and “Vince is winning, so far, cementing his place as the cabbie’s favourite politician. Smashed MPs and bankers in his intro minute, and clobbered Osborne over the (beserk-in-a-recession) IHT cut” – Financial Times blog
- “If I had to call it, then I’d say Cable came out on top” – Peter Hoskin, The Spectator
- Tweetminster, measuring sentiment on Twitter: Cable +5, Darling +1, Osborne 0
- Tim Montgomerie from Conservative Home takes a different view though: “Osborne 7 out of 10, Darling 6 out of 10, Cable 5 out of 10″. ConHome’s response to Vince Cable getting the most applause? Float a conspiracy theory without any evidence – “I’d be interested in how Channel 4 selected its audience and whether the LibDems flooded the application process.”
- The bookies: Ladbrokes’ instant reaction- Tories cut to 8/13 from 4/6 to win majority (from Paul Waugh)
But oddest response goes to the BBC who mistakenly suggested Ming Campbell was appearing there alongside Vince Cable. Oops.
And here’s how the debate played out:
A combination of the recession, savvy timing by Channel 4 and the political situation facing each of the main parties makes tonight’s Channel 4 debate between Vince Cable, Alistair Darling and George Osborne the most eagerly anticipated TV debate between party spokespeople that I can recall happening for a general election.
For Vince Cable the challenge is to live up to his number one spot in the polls and in the face of direct criticism from opponents. Will his skill in interviews and press conferences transfer over to this new medium?
For Alistair Darling the challenge is simply that whilst he’s been in post the economy has suffered dreadfully. Can he escape a legacy as the man who raised taxes, cut spending, saw the economy shrink and saw the deficit balloon?
Finally for George Osborne the question is at heart very simple: is he up to the job? Even many of those who praise his political strategy skills are at best lukewarm over his economic skills and reputation.
In other words, for all three there is plenty to lose. Let’s hope that does not make for a nervy, defensive performance from all three.
Size of Alistair Darling’s entourage turning up to the debate: six. Not much sign of trimming to just the essentials there
Channel 4 poll has 26% wanting Cable as Chancellor, 17% Darling, 12% Osborne.
Hash tags in use: #askthechancellors and #goVince
And we’re off with Osborne’s opening statement – Labour has made a mess.
Then Cable – we predicted the mess and we’ve got to work together to sort it out. More specific policies than Darling, detailing tax changes to make system fairer.
Then Darling – confident Britain can have a bright future. Emphasis on ‘securing the recovery’.
First question: what personal qualities do the three have to make them a good Chancellor?
Easy one for Cable given his background as an economist. He again reminds people that he was warning of the bust long before others. Darling talks about having tenacity and willingness to take tough decisions and a belief in fairness. Osborne says he brings energy, new ideas and teamwork – plus policies rooted in values.
Verdict so far: everyone’s answers will reinforce people’s existing views rather than make people switch.
Next question: another good one, asking them to come clean about what they would cut.
Darling says tough decisions necessary, but doesn’t give examples.
Osborne gives some specifics – e.g. public sector pay freeze – but not many.
Cable gives longest and most detailed list of cuts. Clear contract from Osborne and Darling.
Body language aside: Osborne looks by far the most nervous, with eyes darting about over the place. Beginner’s TV appearance error. Even I know better than that
Exchange between Darling and Osborne on when to start spending cuts. Osborne clearly sees this as the dividing line on economic policy.
Cable turns on Osborne too, attacking him for dismissing Labour’s claims to find £11bn in waste to cut and now saying he’ll bring forward those cuts. Cable gets first real round of applause.
Darling responds well to Cable’s challenge to name specific saving but then turns it into attack on Osborne rather than pursuing point with Cable.
Sentiment so far via Tweetminster: Latest sentiment score: Cable +9 (-1), Osborne 0 (-1), Darling 0 (-5)
Next question: health spending.
Osborne promises real terms increase in health spending every year.
Cable: can’t give guarantees as tough choices to make and believes there are some savings that can be found in health service bureaucracy. It would be “totally irresponsible” to give cast iron guarantees.
Darling focuses on need for growth as that generates the money to pay for the NHS.
Andrew Sparrow’s verdict so far: Vince Cable coming out the best.
Next question: public sector pensions.
Darling: both private and public sector pensions need reform. Public sector pensions will be less generous in future. Affordability is the key.
Osborne: cap the highest pensions and audit the system promptly with a view to further reform.
Cable: politically astute aside saying MPs’ pensions are amongst those that are too generous. Public sector pensions will need to be less generous in future.
Osborne and Cable both talk about need for long term and cross party agreement on pension changes. Darling has a jibe at Osborne over cross party agreement with a reference to long term health care.
Cable again gets a good laugh – with joke about the cross-party love-in. He joins with Darling in attacking Osborne for previous Conservative breaking of cross party talks on long term health care.
Osborne keeps on getting in the phrase “Labour’s 10% death tax” but that repetition aside, it’s Darling and Cable who are the most fluent and convincing in their answers.
Next question: tax.
Cable starts off with the Lib Dem policy of raising income tax threshold to £10,000. Talks up not only its benefits but also details of how it would be paid for – “fully costed”.
Osborne – there will have to be some tax rises that can’t be avoided. Also wants a new bank tax. But working to avoid National Insurance tax rise.
Darling also talks about tax rises; emphasises the richest getting the most extra tax.
Osborne attacks Darling over copying his stamp duty tax policies. Darling neatly parries with good joke, making reference back to previous comments about cross-party cooperation – “well George, we’re all in favour of cross-party cooperation”.
Cable tries to pin Osborne down on whether Conservatives would go ahead with a bank tax even if other countries didn’t agree on it, which has been their previous position. Osborne dodges it saying there will be international agreement.
Osborne – “no plans” to increase VAT. Darling and Cable give similar answers – not planning to increase VAT.
Cable – “we’ve been held to ransom” by “pinstripe Scargills” who want to hold country to ransom and threaten to leave country if don’t get their own way on tax.
All three talk about importance of fairness. Cable scores another of the rare rounds of applause by attacking Tories over emphasis on cutting taxes for very richest.
Overall impression so far: Cable and Darling regularly having a go at Osborne. Limited audience reactions, but so far best laughs and applause for Cable
Next question – the banks.
Cable – attacks bonuses not just for bankers but those at the tops of other professions too. Wants to split up banks.
Darling – also against over the top bonuses and talks up his introduction of a tax on them. Disagrees on breaking up banks.
Osborne – also attacks bonuses. Barclays chief “doesn’t understand what the rest of the country is going through”.
Latest sentiment scores from Twitter/Tweetminster: Cable: +7 (-3), Darling +3 (NC), Osborne 0 (NC)
Next question – how can people trust their judgements given failure to spot bank system problems.
Darling – everyone failed to appreciate the links between financial institutions.
Osborne – says did warn about debt if not about full range of problems, so lessons learnt too.
Cable gets one of the rare rounds of applause (again) by pointing out how he did warn of problems, though says even he didn’t appreciate the scale of fraud and greed in some parts of the banking system.
Next question: help for young people
Osborne talks about Conservative plans for helping young people in to work.
Darling: good answer, makes reference to his own son’s concerns for the future. Talks up strengths of Britain and hope for future.
Cable: government can’t guarantee jobs but can ensure banks are lending to businesses so they can create jobs.
Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow still has the verdict that Cable ahead, with Darling doing second best.
Just time for closing pitches, 60 seconds each.
Darling addresses the audience directly – looks around, says “you” a lot. Understands people’s concerns, talks up his record of making decisions. Creating jobs in the future is vital. Emphasises “fair” and “strong”.
Cable: fairer taxes, make economy less dependent on financial gambling. Who can you trust? Labour had one big recession; Tories has two big recessions. Gets applause for attacking Tories for wanting to help their rich backers. Lib Dems not beholden to unions or super-rich.
Osborne: won’t be a Lib Dem government. Choice is Labour and its failed record or Tories with David Cameron. Ends comments to complete silence from audience. Not one clap.
[For verdict, see top of this piece.]