If Channel 4's Ask the Chancellors debate tonight was the template for the long-awaited leaders' debates during the General Election campaign, then the real thing may be well worth watching. Maybe it was the focus on specific economic issues rather than general platitudes and populist issues which made it more interesting than the usual 'panel' style of debate, or the skillful chairing by Krishnan Guru-Murthy - I don't know - but it was a good bit of telly – an intelligent alternative to the the usual bloodbath you normally get on Question Time.
Even though I’m admittedly biased towards Labour, putting those prejudices aside for one moment I still thought Darling and Cable both came across exceptionally well – Darling very confident and with good arguments. Cable absolutely right on a lot of things and you could sense a genuine interest in the things he was saying from his views on public spending to bankers’ bonuses. Some people might write off the election campaign as a two-horse race but in a possible and likely hung parliament this guy has a higher chance of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer than any Liberal/Liberal Democrat since the government of David Lloyd George.
George Osborne, on the other hand, just sounded like he’d been spending far too much time with Andy Coulson, the Tories’ director of communications. There was a time in British politics where you could get away with those sort of vacuous soundbites, but even if (as we are led to believe) Osborne is a very clever guy with a firm grasp of economics, he didn’t display these qualities this evening. I felt Darling and Cable had the right balance of sound figures, a record of making the right judgements and the right sort of political acumen in a studio environment. Osborne tells us it is essential to "learn the lessons" of the banking crisis and calls for stronger regulation, but to me this is a belated conversion. You might have expected that if he'd really believed in reform of the banking system, Osborne would have fought back when Darling pointed out the Tory position on the response to the crisis was completely at odds with 20 of the world's largest economies.
It'll be interesting to see how the Tory high command judge Osborne's performance tonight - if I were Dave I'd be deeply worried at this point. If anything, tonight's debate was a complete vindication of the 'do-nothing' response to the turbulent economic times of the last few years.