The economy was big stuff, and it was time for the big boys. It turned into Cameron v Brown. Clegg peaked too early in the debates, and he struggles with some of his policies. He could have done with Vince sitting on his shoulder.
It’s the economy stupid. Everyone knows that some nasty cuts are coming after next Thursday. All three leaders were put on the spot. All three said they were going to be “frank” and then danced around specifics. You can’t blame them. There is an election next week.
David Cameron, in need of a strong performance, got off to a confident start and built on it. He probably came out on top. It's not clear he has done enough to seal the deal but he came closer than he has in the last two debates. Brown's attack on inheritance tax was repetitive but hits home.
Gordon Brown, one-time Iron Chancellor, is convinced everyone else is wrong on the economy. He tackled the ‘bigotgate’ episode head-on, saying it was an example of how he doesn’t always get the job of PM right. But, he said, he did know how to run the economy. Tory spin doctors quickly claimed this was the “first joke of the night”.
He slammed the “same old Conservative party of the 1980s and 1990s” – a charge which will sting in the Westcountry.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg again made his plea for politicians to “work together… to be open and straight about how big the black hole is”. Fat chance. This is a fight to the death, a fight in which he was in danger of looking like a spectator.
These debates have been game changers. Not just for the three men at the podiums – and Mr Clegg remains the greatest beneficiary – but for the electorate as a whole.
Of course there is still apathy, trust remains low and anger still fizzes over expenses and immigration.
But after years of politicians complaining that their words are twisted by us nasty hacks, these debates have been a platform for them to set out their stall. The claim that all the parties are the same has subsided. Real differences have emerged over Trident, voting reform and, tonight, the economy.
Go back to your constituencies and prepare for (a) government.
YouGov/Sun: Cameron 41%, Clegg 32%, Brown 25%
ComRes: Cameron 35%, Clegg 33%, Brown 26%
Angus Reid: Cameron 36%, Clegg 31%, Brown 23%
Moment of the Night:
Michael Gove on Sky tells Charlie Whelan he may be out of a job next week and Tories would help him "quickly out of welfare and into work". Brilliant.