Aggressive Brown fails to revive faltering campaign as leaders clash over economy, immigration and estate tax
Patrick Wintour and Polly Curtis
The Guardian, Friday 30 April 2010
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown during the final live leaders' election debate. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC. Watch highlights from the debate here Link to this video
Gordon Brown last night appeared to have failed in his daunting mission to change the course of the general election during an ill-tempered leaders' debate in which he repeatedly rounded on David Cameron and warned that Conservative spending cuts would imperil the fragile recovery.
The prime minister's aggressive tone, however, did not destabilise Cameron, and his perceived negativity may have backfired with voters, who gave the debate to the Tory leader in all the instant polls.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, seemed to struggle to impose himself for the first time in the three TV debates, and was caught in a pincer movement over his party's policy on immigration.
Brown's pitch from the start was to claim that Cameron represented the "same old Tories", returning to the hardline policies of the 1930s and 1980s that left millions unemployed. He then rounded on Cameron for offering tax breaks for the banks and millionaires, saying that this was no way to build a fair society. Speaking of his rivals, Brown said: "They are not ready for government, because they have not thought through their policies."
The Tory leader, initially forced on the defensive over the fairness of his tax plans, countered hard. "What you are hearing is desperate stuff from a man in a desperate state," he said, adding that Brown should be ashamed of himself for trying to frighten people.
Clegg repeated his claim that only the Liberal Democrats could offer real change. "We need to do things differently to build a new, stronger and fairer economy. The way they got us into this mess is not the way out. Of course, they will tell you tonight that these things can't be done. I think we have got to do things differently to deliver the fairness, the prosperity and the jobs that you and your family deserve."
Three instant polls, however, showed that Cameron had triumphed, with Clegg in second, and Brown trailing third. But a Guardian/ICM poll gave victory to Cameron on 35%, with Brown in second place on 29%, and Clegg on 27%.
The polls suggest that Cameron – by offering a reassuring performance – had been correct not to be provoked by Brown's direct and pointed attacks.
The Tory leader ended with a deliberate pitch to the centre ground. "There's something you need to know about me, which is I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest.
"That's true in good times but it's even more true in difficult times. And there will be difficult decisions but I want to lead us through those to better times ahead."
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, insisted that Brown had given a barnstorming performance and the prime minister punched hard in the opening half on the economy, trying to pin down an elusive Cameron on spending, corporation tax and efficiency savings.
In some of the most highly charged exchanges, Cameron also for the first time really rounded on Clegg, accusing him of wriggling over his offer of an amnesty to illegal immigrants that he said would allow 600,000 people who came here illegally to stay, as well as bring their families.
Brown too joined in to criticise the Lib Dem leader. Under pressure Clegg, no longer the novelty act of a fortnight ago, hit back at Cameron, saying: "Let's save time and assume that every time you talk about our policy you are simply wrong."
Demanding a yes or no answer, he challenged Cameron to admit that his planned cap on immingration would have no impact on migrants from the European Union. He also appealed for all three parties to come together after the election to agree the scale of the deficit and how to tackle it. With the final debate focused on the economy, deemed to be Brown's strongest suit, the dramatic 90 minutes was seen as the Labour leader's last, best chance to revive his campaign, and even prevent his long political career ending ignominiously in the immediate wake of next Thursday's poll. Polls before the debate started showed the Tories narrowly ahead, but with the gap not widening.
In the personal and political test of his lifetime, Brown had to launch his big attack on the day after he had been enveloped in a disastrous encounter with a Rochdale pensioner, Gillian Duffy, when he was caught describing her as a "bigoted woman". Duffy had challenged Brown over the threat posed by immigrants from eastern Europe. In his opening address, the prime minister addressed the issue head-on, saying: "There is a lot to this job and, as you saw yesterday, I don't get all of it right. But I do know how to run the economy, in good times and in bad."
In an attempt to convince voters that the election should be a judgment on Britain's economic future and not a referendum on his personality, Brown said: "It's not my future that matters. It's your future on the ballot paper next Thursday, and I am the one to fight for your future."
He battled time and again to portray the Tories as the party of the rich and described as immoral the Conservatives' plans to cut tax credits but "at the same time give an inheritance tax cut to the 3,000 richest people in the country. Now that's not fairness, that's the same old Conservative party – tax cuts for the rich and cutting the child tax credits for the very poor. It's simply not fair."
Cameron said the taxpayer was having to pay "more and more and more".
Friday, 30 April 2010
Posted by MANUEL DE ARAÚJO at Friday, April 30, 2010