Well first of all let us not be churlish – it was a good performance by Cameron and, all things being equal, he was probably the strongest on the night. By changing the frame of the debate and side-stepping some of the more difficult questions on Inheritance Tax and Corporation Tax he put himself back in his comfort zone and it paid off. Cameron isn’t strong on debating policy detail but he is good at platitudes and painting a convincing picture of what the world should be like. By focusing on his strengths he re-energised himself and his supporters – whether it is enough to change the polls significantly remains to be seen.
The big decision for me though involved the other two leaders – as anyone who has read my blog in recent weeks will know I am a traditional Labour voter, and member, who has come to question whether they or the Lib-Dems actually best represent my views. It is an emotional decision for me, I have been a member of the party for over a decade and have never voted for anyone else in any election since I was 18, however I do feel it is important not to vote just for tribalistic or nostalgic reasons but rather consider who I feel best represents my values and priorities.
So, to the debate – first of all there was no clear winner between the two, it feels like Clegg and Brown are determined to keep me hanging on until the last moment! Brown, after a shaky start, continued to show his mastery of policy detail. What he lacks in presentation skills he clearly makes up for in sheer scale of brain matter. Clegg clearly could not continue to live-up to the ‘Clegg-mania’ that has built up around him but it was a strong, assured performance and one that continues to put him on the side of change.
Policy-wise there were no great surprises – Gordon Brown talked of ring-fencing spending in Health, Education and Policing (though still failed to really spell-out how budget-cuts will impact on the other departments). He also launched into a vociferous defence of Child and Working Tax Credits – the jewel in the crown of Labour policy. What he failed to do though is turn this into any kind of narrative, to really spell-out how it affects the average family or individual. This lack of connection with voters is Brown’s, and the Labour Party’s, biggest problem and plays into the hands of those who choose to attack his personality.
Clegg on the other hand is very good at using anecdotes and stories to explain how his policies will make a positive impact on the average family – he spelt out in detail that if we are to go through a period of sacrifice from the british public then we need to ensure that the system is at least fair – central to this is Income Tax, a guarantee that all earnings up to £10,000 paid for by increasing tax on the highest earners and changing the rules of corporation tax is certainly a welcome policy. More impressive though is his explanation of cutting child tax credits to the top 20% of current recipients by pointing out that someone earning an MPs wage would currently qualify. I am a huge fan of Labour’s tax credits but it is more important than ever that we focus all our efforts on the poorest in society and if this means sacrificing tax credits to middle-income families then so be it.
So, as GB said this morning, the time for debating is over and it is time to make a decision. I haven’t 100% made-up my mind yet but it is increasingly likely that I am going to vote for the Liberals. Labour haven’t entirely lost my vote yet, but it will take something special to happen in the final week of the campaign for me to believe they are still the party of progressive radicalism they once surely were.
Regardless of who I decide to vote for the sad truth facing me is that I cannot in all reality remain a member of a political party whose policies and values have increasingly become out of sync with mine. It is with a heavy heart that I write my resignation from a party who I have been a part of for the last decade, but politics cannot be about a nostalgic view of what a party once was, it must a be a rational study of what the party has become.