Channel 4 made history on Monday by screening the first ever televised Chancellor of the Exchequer debate. For those of you that missed it, it was actually a gripping hour of mud slinging, policy and, unbelievably, humour. Most of the electorate undeniably vote based on personality, so it was interesting to see Alistair Darling, Vince Cable and George Osborne represent the three major parties and debate for currently the most important job in British politics.
“Who has been the most honest about the problems? Who has the ideas and the credibility to solve them? Who inspires you?” This was how host Krishnan Guru-Murthy began the programme, and by the end of an uninterrupted hour of debate, the public’s political views might not have changed, but the views on the potential Chancellor’s themselves will certainly have altered. ‘Inspiring’ however was possibly the wrong word to use.
With this being a television debate, I did not know what to expect from the audience. I was secretly hoping for a frenzied ‘Jeremy Kyle’ studio audience that would boo and hiss and argue their question to the death. It turned out to be similar to ‘Question Time’, but not quite so heated. There was time only for a limited number of questions, but the format was very structured and professional allowing clarity in the answers of each candidate.
Key areas of debate revolved around spending cuts, increases in taxation, jobs and the banking system. All fought their corner well, George Osborne attacking Darling’s Labour record as often as possible. Vince Cable for the Liberal Democrats often stated his position bluntly and too the point, for the most part answering the exact question asked, rather than skirting the issue highlighted. It was rather disconcerting to see the current chancellor, Alistair Darling, always being so hopeful. His opening statement was confident but as soon as he resorted to ‘I hope…’ in his answers about his own suitability for the job, you felt that he wasn’t quite so sure of his own qualities, let alone the policies he went on to speak about.
Beforehand, many would have expected George Osborne to walk away with the debate. Despite coming under attack early from Darling over National Insurance, he seemed to retort well. Each time Osborne looked to be leading the debate with his views and Conservative policies, Vince Cable came out with common sense, mixed with dry wit, to put forward the Liberal Democrat cause. Darling must have been thankful when Cable sided with him for some of the debate, but didn’t realise that Cable was actually stealing the show. He got interrupted in his one minute speech at the end due to a rapturous round of applause from the audience.
George Osborne tried to be realistic at the end by stating that the next government will be either Labour or Conservative. This is undeniably the truth, but it seemed uncalculated for him to state the obvious after the audience at home and in the studio had connected so well with Cable. Osborne ended up being portrayed as bitter that he wasn’t getting the praise and credit he deserved for all the policies Darling kept stealing. Surely that is better than being seen as a sneering old Etonian? Darling spoke well, but you had to remind yourself that this was the current Chancellor who has been promising of recovery and better times for the past two years. For him it ended up being a case of ‘heard it all before’.
This debate was an easy way for the electorate to see each party putting forward their economic policies, the ones which aim to reduce national debt and provide job prospects for the future. Bring on the party leader debates, as this Chancellor debate shows that they are going to play a very important role in the national election.