The news that the bond markets were having conniptions about Greece, and also about Portugal and Spain, was a suitably gloomy frame for the final, economics-oriented debate. If the new government cocks things up, we’re en route for the IMF to come in. So it was time to hear some detail about the parties’ plans to prevent that.
Instead there was the usual theatre, in which the three men picked on each other’s proposed spending cuts and made a meal of them, in a manner analogous to that of grooming chimpanzees. This was their last chance to be specific about what’s coming – the most difficult period, in terms of state spending, for sixty years. They chose to whiff it, and thereby set themselves up for the disastrous possibility of winning the election with no mandate to do what they’re going to have to do. Yesterday’s Guardian had a story about Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, who was quoted by an American economist as having said (‘at a private lunch’) that ‘whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be.’ It’s presumably impossible for a politician to act on that thought – just as no sports team would ever prefer losing – but that doesn’t make it less likely to be true. Clegg tried to give a glimpse of how big the problem is, when he talked about the various chancellor figures gathering in a cross-party ‘council for financial stability’. The other two looked at him as if he had farted. If the purpose of the debate was to sidestep the single most important issue facing the country over the next decade, it was a brilliant success.
As far as the theatre of the event went, Cameron shaded it, mainly because he seemed to underperform expectations the last two times. The first polls agreed with that, but not by enough to suggest that it’s going to have any serious impact on the outcome. So it’s a hung Parliament or a very very narrow Tory win.
In other news, I’ve just been told that the Tory manifesto is at number six in this coming Sunday Times bestseller list. It is officially the end of the world.