Coalition Plans Revealed

DAVID CAMERON and Nick Clegg vowed on Thursday to crack down on benefits cheats and hand more power to the public.

The agreement covers 31 areas and commits the coalition Government to introducing a banking levy, with an independent commission examining the former Lib Dem commitment to separate retail and investment banking.

A report is due in a year’s time.

The administration will ‘seek to ensure an injection of private capital into Royal Mail, including opportunities for employee ownership’. But Post Office Ltd will remain in public ownership, according to the document.

Pledges to scrap the ID card scheme and national identity register, and introduce a Freedom Bill, were also confirmed.

The launch came as Tory MPs accepted Mr Cameron’s bid to reform the key backbench 1922 Committee, which has previously been the focal point for backbench unrest.

These are the agreement’s other main points:-

Schools

  • Parents, teachers, charities and local communities given the chance to set up new schools
  • Teachers’ pay and conditions reformed so good teachers can be paid more and poor teachers axed
  • Teachers accused by pupils to be given anonymity
  • State schools given chance to offer wider range of qualifications
  • Heads given more power to tackle poor behaviour

Jobs and welfare

  • Benefits only for those who are willing to work
  • All current claimants of Incapacity Benefit to be reassessed
  • Benefit system to be simplified
  • All existing welfare to work programmes scrapped
  • ‘Work Clubs’ and ‘Service Academies’ set up to help people back to work
  • Those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance to be referred to welfare to work programme immediately – not after 12 months

Crime and policing

  • Time-wasting bureaucracy to be scrapped
  • Health and safety laws to be amended to allow common sense policing
  • Police forced to hold regular ‘beat meetings’ where public can hold them to account
  • Greater protection for those who defend themselves from intruders
  • System of temporary bans on new ‘legal highs’ while health issues are considered
  • Police must publish detailed local crime statistics every month

NHS

  • Number of health quangos axed
  • Stop closure of A&E and maternity wards
  • Pledge to increase spending on NHS in real terms in each year of Parliament
  • Cut the cost of health administration by  a third
  • Patients to get a voice on boards of their local public health trust (PCT)

… (Telegraph, 25/05/2010) – Queen’s Speech – point by point

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‘The People Have Spoken – We Are Just Not Sure What They Said’

For the first time since the Second World War, Britain is to be governed by a coalition. On Tuesday, Gordon Brown decided to break the hiatus by tendering his resignation to the Queen whilst David Cameron and Nick Clegg were still in the midst of final negotiations.

As Cameron addressed the press in front of Number 10 Downing Street, it was still unclear as to whether the Lib-Con agreement would be finalised; but, on Wednesday morning, the markets were finally buoyed as Cameron and Clegg shook hands on the steps of the prime ministerial residence.

A new government had taken shape against the background of UK unemployment passing 2.5 million – the highest since 1994 – and a staggering financial crisis.

One of biggest tasks facing the new government lays in paying-down the country’s debt – and the Liberal Democrats have shifted their position by supporting 6 billion pounds of cuts to take place this year. The Conservatives have modified their aims too, to incorporate Lib Dem policy.

Cameron and Clegg outside no 10

From next April, the first stage in increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,000 per year will come into force – providing a welcome respite for the lower paid in times of economic frugality.

Constitutional and voting reform will take place under the eyes of the new Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and we can anticipate a referendum on the latter. In return, the Lib Dem pro European stance has been set aside for this, five-year, parliament.

The National Identity Card scheme will be scrapped; but the employee portion of Labour’s NHI increase will take place next year, countering some of the benefits of reduced taxation from the personal allowance rise.

Constitutionally, it is likely that the first Act of Parliament in the new session will be to ensure fixed term parliaments from 2015.

The next general election will take place on the first Thursday in May, 2015.

During Wednesday afternoon, it became clear that this was to be a full coalition government. Despite its limited seats, the Liberal Democrats were to be fully embedded within government departments and their subsequent roles were by no means minor. Vince Cable was given the post of Business Secretary; David Laws was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Chris Huhne as Energy and Climate Change Secretary; and Danny Alexander became the Secretary for Scotland.

The full list of cabinet posts is as follows:-

  • Prime minister: David Cameron, 43, Conservative
  • Deputy prime minister: Nick Clegg, 43, Liberal Democrat
  • Chancellor: George Osborne, 38, Conservative
  • Home secretary: Theresa May, 53, Conservative
  • Foreign secretary: William Hague, 49, Conservative
  • Defence secretary: Liam Fox, 48, Conservative
  • Justice secretary: Kenneth Clarke, 69, Conservative
  • Health secretary: Andrew Lansley, 53, Conservative
  • Education secretary: Michael Gove, 42, Conservative
  • Business secretary: Vincent Cable, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Chief secretary to the Treasury: David Laws, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Work and pensions secretary: Iain Duncan Smith, 56, Conservative
  • Energy and climate change secretary: Chris Huhne, 55, Liberal Democrat
  • Local government secretary: Eric Pickles, 58, Conservative
  • Transport secretary: Philip Hammond, 55, Conservative
  • Environment secretary: Caroline Spelman, 52, Conservative
  • International development secretary: Andrew Mitchell, 54, Conservative
  • Northern Ireland secretary: Owen Paterson, 53, Conservative
  • Scotland secretary: Danny Alexander, 37, Liberal Democrat
  • Welsh secretary: Cheryl Gillan, 58, Conservative
  • Culture, media and sport secretary: Jeremy Hunt, 43, Conservative
  • Leader of the Lords: Lord Strathclyde, 50, Conservative
  • Minister without portfolio: Lady Warsi, 39, Conservative

Also attending cabinet will be the Minster for the Cabinet Office: Francis Maude, paymaster general (Conservative); the Minister of state, Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin (Conservative); Minister of state (universities and science), David Willetts(Conservative); Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young (Conservative); and Parliamentary chief secretary to the Treasury and chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin (Conservative).

Attorney general, Dominic Grieve (Conservative) will be invited when required.

As soon as the posts had been formally declared, ministers were hurrying to their new offices, determined to get to work.

There was no such drama in Castle Point, where the Conservatives retained a comfortable majority in last Thursday’s local elections. But it did not take long for the Canvey Island Independence Party (CIIP), in the shape of Nick Harvey (leader of Canvey Island’s Town Council and Canvey Island North Ward Councillor) and Canvey Island South resident Colin Letchford to begin berating, what both see as, the lack of democracy in the borough.

Colin Letchford had apparently put pen to paper the day after this Blog published its Dave Blackwell: A Changed Man? piece. In a letter written to the Echo, and copied to this Blog, Letchford alleges that he was banned from the local elections count  – in which he had been asked to act as a teller by Harvey. He further alleges that the reason given was that he had had the gall to begin a petition for an elected mayor – and that the Swann sisters had been similarly banned for beginning the ‘Save Our Pool’ petition.

Like Liz Swann and her remarks regarding ‘it was actually told to Lea Swann by a Conservative Cabinet Councillor in front of one of Conservatives own who is above reproach,’ in the readers’ forum on this blog, Letchford provides no evidence for his allegations.

His letter is a confused patchwork of unfounded statistics and innuendo aimed at manufacturing a case for the CIIP to be represented in the borough’s cabinet. Along with CIIP members, he seems incapable of realising that the Conservatives hold a comfortable 33% majority and that they are therefore entitled to none. He argues that 94% of islanders are unrepresented in cabinet; but that figure is totally discredited. The fact is that 48.6% of island residents, whom took part in the last local election, are not represented by their newly elected councillors – and that the CIIP has no firm mandate because, on a proportional basis, they only have the slimmest of majorities (just 469 votes across the whole of the island – representing only 2.7%).

Letchford is keen to take the opportunity for promoting his petition for an elected mayor; but it transpired in our discussion that the true purpose behind it is not to provide residents with the opportunity of electing a charismatic council leader. Letchford states that the purpose behind his petition to have an elected mayor is because: ‘The mayor chooses the cabinet members.’

As already pointed-out on this Blog, Letchford’s petition is simply another means by which the CIIP hopes to infiltrate the policy making body of Castle Point Borough Council – and provide a lucrative post for its main sponsor.

And Letchford, it seems, is also unable to understand that, even if Spink were elected as mayor, and he were to fill the eight cabinet positions with CIIP colleagues, that there would still be no change in the balance of power. If mainlanders voted in the same way as now, they would still retain their majority. Consequently they would hold a majority on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, as they do now, and be in a position to call-in every cabinet decision and refer it to full council – where it could be easily defeated.

Spink: "I've been here before. Maybe I'll be here again..."

But Spink is not that disorganised. He knows that, with his media savvy and increased profile, a position as elected mayor would provide him with a platform that could be used to his advantage. And again it is the far-left protest strategy that will be employed. Despite it being the majority whom would defeat his ambitions in the chamber, Spink would continue to call ‘foul’ and point to the Conservatives as continually blocking him.

Same old, same old. And the borough and this island would continue to stagnate while Spink and his colleagues played their political games (while lining their pockets with taxpayer funds and enjoying civil benefits).

Is this all about island independence from Castle Point? Well, if it is, Blackwell and his colleagues are not saying anything. Just as they have never made clear their position on any other matter. If it is, then residents have a right to know just how much separation will cost them. A rough estimate, at the present time, is that islanders’ Council Tax would soar three-fold.

But if it were about island independence, why do the CIIP not stand on the mainland and provide all residents with the opportunity of voting for separation? That way they could democratically achieve a majority with which to pass such a resolution.

The answer is that it would not create a power-base for Spink’s own Independent Save Our Green Belt Party – and his and Blackwell’s ambitions to be Lords of their purposely divided manors would not be fulfilled…

The Second TV Leaders’ Debate

(Telegraph) – THE STAKES WERE RAISED for the three party leaders, Labour’s Gordon Brown, the Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg as they went head to head for the second televised debate of the 2010 general election campaign. Here is a run-down of the questions they faced:-

Q. How would you tackle EU interference?

Mr Cameron said “we have let too many powers go from Westminster to Brussels” and “we should take some of those powers back”.

“I want us to be in Europe, but I don’t want us to be run by Europe.”

After saying he did not want to join the Euro, the Tory leader vowed to cut bureaucracy and rules.

Mr Clegg said the EU was not perfect but said “size does matter”.

He said: “There are a whole lot of things, whether we like it or not – whatever your views on Europe and the European Union – which we simply cannot deal with on our own.”

Saying Europe would help target climate change and international crime, he added: “We are stronger together and weaker apart.”

Mr Brown said there were “three million reasons why we need to be part of the European Union – and they are called jobs”.

Isolating Britain from Europe would be a “terrible, terrible mistake”, he added.

Saying that when the EU and US work together “we are so much stronger”, Mr Brown added: “Let us never again be an empty chair in Europe.”

Q. Given our involvement in Afghanistan, if there is another multinational operation to remove al Qaida or another terrorist group from a failed state, would the UK participate?

Mr Clegg: “The principle of the reason why we went into Afghanistan, why I supported our mission in Afghanistan, unlike the illegal invasion of Iraq, is to keep us safe.

“It’s because we believe that, if you allow Afghanistan to be a haven of extremism and terrorism, there will be more terrorist attacks in Britain. So from that principle if we need to do that again we should.”

But he said if we were to take such action again, the UK must make sure that troops had the right equipment.

Mr Clegg said a strategic defence review after the election was essential and insisted he would not spend money on the third tranche of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

“I don’t think it’s right to do what both David Cameron and Gordon Brown want, which is now to commit, before we even need to make a decision, to spend up to £100 billion renewing, in the same old way, the Cold War Trident nuclear missile system.”

Mr Brown said there were already problems emerging with al Qaida in Somalia and Yemen and the UK would continue to have to act internationally to combat this.

He said: “There is a chain of terror that links these al Qaida groups in different parts of the world to action that could happen in the United Kingdom.”

He added: “To keep the streets safe in Britain we have to take on al Qaida wherever it is.”

The Prime Minister said he believed the war in Afghanistan can be won, and insisted that Britain must keep its nuclear deterrent in the face of the threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Mr Cameron said: “If I was your Prime Minister I would want to think very carefully what’s in the national interest. What would make us safer in the UK?”

He added: “If you look at future operations like that, we have to learn from the mistakes of the past.

“We need to make sure that we never send our troops into battle again without the proper equipment, without the proper helicopters.”

In a future conflict the UK would need to make sure that there was a political exit strategy in place, he said.

But Mr Cameron said the budget to give soldiers better equipment must not come at the expense of the nuclear deterrent.

Q. What are you doing personally to tackle climate change?

Mr Brown vowed to boost the UK’s use of renewable powers, tackling Britain’s dependence on oil.

Promoting the use of wind turbines and solar panels, he also said the development of Britain’s high-speed rail network was “helping to get people off the roads and also get off domestic air flights and I think that’s incredibly important”.

On a personal level he said he had been using trains while on the campaign trail and said he was using solar panels at his family home.

Mr Cameron said the “biggest change” he had made was that his party were “very strongly against the third runway at Heathrow”, adding we should have a “high-speed” rail hub instead: “I think it would be a really big step forward.”

He added: “In terms of my own life, the biggest thing I’ve done is have proper insulation in our house – it really can cut your energy bill, making life cheaper as well as greener.”

Mr Clegg said that in his personal life he was “acutely aware I do not do enough” on a personal level.

The Lib Dem leader said the use of flights needed to be tackled and called for a “plane tax” to be introduced to tackle the pollution caused by freight as well as passengers.

Q. When the Pope visits Britain in September, will the leaders dissociate themselves from him?

Mr Cameron welcomed the visit and said that, as Prime Minister, he would do “everything in my power” to make it a success, although he does not share the Pontiff’s views on contraception and homosexuality.

He said: “I think the Catholic Church has got some very, very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened and they need to do that. But I do think that we should respect people of faith.”

Mr Clegg said his children are being raised as Catholics and there are feelings of “anguish” in the community about the abuse scandals.

He said: “Many Catholics themselves feel really extremely torn apart by what’s happened and I think they do want to see the Catholic Church express greater openness.”

“I do welcome the Pope’s visit but I hope by the time he does visit there is a greater recognition there has been terrible, terrible suffering.”

Mr Brown said the Church had to “make sure that there is an open and clean confession” about the abuse scandals.

But he said he welcomed the Pope’s visit because the Catholic Church was a “great part” of British society and that religious barriers must be broken down.

Q. Given the scandals of the past year, how do you plan to restore faith in politics?

Mr Clegg called for the transfer of power to be handed back to the people, saying: “You’re the boss.”

“We all agree on the rhetoric of cleaning up politics but we actually have to act,” he added.

Calling for voting reforms, he said: “Many people are being ignored and we need to change that.”

Mr Brown said: “We will give the right of recall so that if you don’t like an MP for being corrupt and Parliament doesn’t take an action then you can remove them.”

He added: “You’re vote matters because this is a big choice election.”

Mr Cameron pointed to the anger surrounding the expenses scandal, saying: “Every where I go in this country during the election, there is, simmering and bubbling below the surface, anger about the expenses fiasco.”

He said he would ensure transparency and promote “simple changes” to put people in control, but said “let’s not have permanent hung Parliaments”.

Q. Do all of you think that a state pension of £59 per week is a just reward?

Mr Brown said every woman should have a full state pension and that if Labour wins the election everyone who works for an employer would get an occupational pension, and pensions would be linked to earnings from 2012.

He told the audience: “The one thing that scandalises our society above all else is that we cannot give dignity and security to all pensioners in their retirement, that’s what I want to see.”

He said he would cut the costs of care for the elderly to make it easier for pensioners to keep their own homes.

Mr Cameron said: “Fifty-nine pounds is not enough and we’ve got to do better as a society in giving people what we all want. Those that have done the right things through their lives, we should be giving you dignity and security in old age.”

He agreed that the pension should rise in line with earnings not prices, and said that from 2016 the Conservatives would raise the age of retirement for men by one year to fund changes.

Mr Clegg said the link between earnings and pensions should be restored immediately.

He said there were 2.5 million pensioners in poverty.

“I think we need to therefore make sure that we use what little money we’ve got – money is tight at the moment – wisely.”

Age of eligibility would rise to 65 for winter fuel payments to allow it to be made to people who are terminally ill or disabled.

He said funding social care was “one of the biggest issues we face” and therefore the three main parties must adopt a common approach.

“It is one issue where we just have got to put people before politics for once, this is something which is such a big issue we need to agree on a common approach.”

Q. Is a coalition Government the best way forward for Britain?

Mr Cameron said: “I think we should work together where we can. I have always thought that was important in politics, I helped Tony Blair get his education Bill through Parliament because I thought it was a good Bill.”

But he said: “If there is a hung Parliament, we must be responsible and we must try and deliver the best government that we can for this country but, actually, if you want my frank and honest answer, I don’t think a hung Parliament would be good for Britain because I think we do need decisive government to take some of the difficult decisions for the long term.”

Mr Clegg said: “It is better if politicians try to work together” and added that he would set up a council for financial stability.

“I do think there is potential for politicians to work with each other – don’t believe all these ludicrous scare stories about markets and political Armageddon if that is what happens.”

Mr Brown said the “key thing” was “that we have got to have an agreed plan to reduce the deficit, protect our public services and get growth in the economy and I’m afraid that we don’t have agreement.”

He added: “We should never take the votes for granted, it is up to the public to decide.”

Q. I recognise that immigration is becoming a problem in the country. What new measures would you introduce in order to make the system more fair?

Mr Clegg said his party would reintroduce exit controls and direct immigrants to areas where there was enough space.

He said Labour and the Conservatives had created “chaos” in the past, meaning illegal immigrants were hidden in the “shadows of our economy”.

“I’d rather get them out of the hands of criminal gangs so that we can go after those criminal gangs, into the hands of the taxman. If they want to play by the rules, pay their taxes, speak English, that is a smart, fair effective way of dealing with immigration.”

Mr Brown said an amnesty for illegal immigrants would encourage more people to try to live in Britain, and that the points system was an effective way of managing immigration.

Currently no unskilled worker from outside the EU was allowed to come and live in Britain, he said, and work was being done to reduce the number of skills needed from abroad.

He said a system to count who was going in and out of the country would be reinstated if Labour was elected.

Mr Brown said: “The big key to the future is the points system. If you don’t have the points to come into this country, in other words if you don’t have a skill we need, don’t come to the country.”

Mr Cameron said the UK had benefited from immigration and Britons should be “incredibly warm and welcoming” to people coming into the country legally.

However, he added: “Immigration in recent years has just simply been too high and we do need to bring the level down. That’s the first bit of fairness that needs to be sorted out.

“People do want this addressed and the other two parties are not actually really addressing this issue because we believe you do need to have a cap on people coming from outside the European Union for economic reasons.”

Liberal Surge Is Biggest Shock To Electoral Landscape For Years

(Independent) – FOR THE TIME BEING at least we are in uncharted waters. Never before have the polls put all three parties so close to each other during the course of an election campaign.

An election that last week the Conservatives looked close to being able to win outright now appears to be entirely up in the air. The ground was already starting to move even before Thursday night’s debate. At 21 per cent, Liberal Democrat support was up on last week by two points, while the Tory lead over Labour had fallen back from nine points to six.

But now, in the immediate wake of the leaders’ debate, the Liberal Democrats have gained a further nine points. At 30 per cent they are two points ahead of Labour and only two points behind the Conservatives. This represents the biggest shock to the political landscape since Labour’s debacle in October 2007 over the election that never was.

A hung parliament now appears to be much more likely. But the movements also mean that, despite running third in votes, Labour’s chances of coming first in seats are looking better than at any time since that 2007 crisis.

Even on 30 per cent, the electoral system is still likely to reward the Liberal Democrats with far fewer seats than the other two parties. They might still be slightly below 100 seats. But at the same time, the potential bias against the Conservatives means a four-point lead over Labour could be insufficient to make them the largest party – unless they really can perform better than average in the key marginals.

Two patterns appear to account for the Liberal Democrat surge. First, the party is now holding on to far more of those who said they voted for it last time. According to ComRes, 83 per cent of previous Liberal Democrats voters now propose to back the party again.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats have won over the uncommitted – the people who tell ComRes they do not generally support any party. A week ago this group was inclined towards the Conservatives; nearly 40 per cent were going to back David Cameron. Now that figure has nearly halved, while no less than 56 per cent say they are going to back Nick Clegg.

Here, perhaps, is a group of voters who, disenchanted with Labour, were going to support the Conservatives as the least worst option. Now, when presented with an apparently more attractive alternative, they have, from David Cameron’s point of view, been prised away all too easily.

How might they be won back again? Not, it seems, with threats about the dangers of a hung parliament. Not only do 90 per cent of Liberal Democrats think a hung parliament would be a good idea, but more than half of Conservative supporters would like Nick Clegg to have a role in the next government.

The Conservatives have already attacked the Liberal Democrats for opposing a like-for-like replacement for Trident. However, BPIX found that 46 per cent of voters are in favour of scrapping Trident and only 34 per cent are opposed.

Potentially more effective, perhaps, could be criticism of the Liberal Democrats for their proposed amnesty for long-term illegal residents. Liberal Democrat supporters may be relatively liberal on immigration but, even so, according to YouGov no less than 65 per cent of the public feel that too many immigrants are coming into Britain.

Labour has its own dilemma. Does it embrace the Liberal Democrats as potential allies in the battle to deny the Tories power? Or does it attack a political force that now threatens to capture some 30 or so Labour seats? The trouble with uncharted waters is that there is no reliable guide.

What You Need To Know About Trident

IN THE TV LEADERS’ DEBATE, last night on ITV, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, suggested that the cost of replacing Britain’s nuclear deterrent would run into ‘100 billion pounds.’

Not true.

The government has put the bill at £15bn to £20bn; but campaign group Greenpeace claims it will run to at least £34bn once extra costs like VAT are factored in.

Nick Clegg’s figure seems to be some kind of ‘totalling’ of Trident’s replacement costs and other expenditure expected to be incurred, directly and indirectly, throughout the system’s lifetime.

Scrapping Trident would not produce an immediate saving of £100 billion that could be used to pay-off the nation’s debt – particularly since scrapping the deal, at this late stage, would involve considerable cancellation costs.

Moreover, the system’s cancellation would inevitably require some other form of military defence to replace it.

Whatever your view on nuclear weapons, doing away with this country’s only deterrent is no panacea for the huge black hole in its public finances – and such a decision would, in any case, cost some 15,000 British jobs.

Viewers And Party Leaders Gear-Up For First TV Debate

(Guardian) – THE CHALLENGE facing the party leaders tonight – and the potential for them to enhance or damage their campaigns – is the reason the TV debate is set to change the dynamic of this general election.

Nearly half the electorate say they will be watching the broadcast, according to two polls published this week, suggesting, somewhat implausibly, that as many 21 million people will be tuning in.

And the public say they will not just be watching for fun. According to an ITN poll last night, half those who said they will be watching insisted it will influence their vote. Even though the network estimates there will probably be 10-12 million viewers, all three leaders think the debates will be the axis on which the election turns.

Their remarks will be targeted at the 6 million or so floating voters, rather than at their party faithful, in the hope that they will get the “cut through” that will entice them into their fold.

One Downing Street official closely involved in preparation for the debates claims this will be the moment the general public will engage in the campaign: “For a lot of people this election has not yet lit up. A lot of people are sitting on their hands and waiting, especially women.

“The TV debates may be the point when the election starts. The predominant mood is that the electorate are not very happy with anything on offer. The public feel there are a lot of numbers out there, and find them confusing. It is not that they are stupid – it is complicated, and I don’t think they will break until very late in the last week.”

The official added: “The Tories have hit us with national insurance and marriage tax, a left and a right hook, but we are still standing. As a result the Tories have lost clarity on the deficit. There is a phrase: ‘If it looks too good to be true, it often is not true.’ That is the point we will push in the debates.”

But Gordon Brown’s team know their man is the worst communicator of the three. A Populus poll shows 42% of respondents expect David Cameron to win, compared with 22% backing Brown and, oddly, only 10% behind Nick Clegg.

In his favour, Brown’s aides say he is totally inured to the culture of America’s televised presidential debates – he apparently leaves parties early in the US to go home and watch them.

One of those preparing the prime minister says he knows that if he is to get through to the audience that matters, he needs to show emotion and not just spout statistics. With Cameron played by Alastair Campbell in Labour’s training sessions, Brown knows what it will be like to be hit by a quick-talking, and often barbed, phrase-maker.

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election co-ordinator, has admitted that the most useful advice for Brown’s team has come from the Australian Labor party. Kevin Rudd, the ALP leader, is like Brown in some ways. He has a lot to say, but had to learn to say it in 60-second statements. Asked if this turns the whole event into a daunting memory exercise, Alexander said: “At its worst, yes, the whole event can be a sequential articulation of rehearsed lines. Anyone who has watched an American TV debate knows that. But then it can turn into a genuine debate.”

Campbell has warned Brown that the challenge is different from any he has faced before. “He’s got the factual stuff in his head,” he told the Fabian Review. “But this is a very different format from prime minister’s questions. It’s television, it’s historic, and the viewing figures are going to be huge. The rules make it quite an odd event – no applause and strict on timings, so it’s about getting used to that format. I just get at him the whole time, the way that Cameron would.”

The Tories have their own problems. Cameron says he’s nervous – and that’s not just for show. Someone who spoke to him recently claimed the Tory leader is anxious to the point of terror, an emotion on which he thrives. He is said to have watched the chancellors’ debate “like a nervous relative”, and has lain awake at night worrying about how he might foul up.

Different pressures affect the favourite in any contest – and expectations on him are high. He is waiting to see if Brown plays the role of father of the nation, though the Labour leader’s political instinct will be instead to swing the clunking fist.

Cameron has to be smart but not smarmy; to show a light touch without being lightweight.

Given the disaffection felt towards politics, Labour strategists are surprised that the Liberal Democrats have not yet done better, but Labour and the Conservatives are worried that this could be Clegg’s lift-off moment.

Cameron has privately admitted that it was a mistake giving Clegg equal time in the debates, and they should have done two with him and one without. One Tory said of Clegg: “He just has to turn up and not fall over and it’s a big success for him.”

Campbell also suggested the Liberal Democrats have got away with daylight robbery. “When we were negotiating the TV debates that never happened, back in 1997, I don’t think it was ever thought, even by the Lib Dems, that the Lib Dems would have equal billing.”

Yet Clegg’s allies say he faces challenges of his own One explained: ‘All Brown has to say is that it is a risk to vote for the Tories, all the Tories have to say is that Brown has failed and it is time for a change. Clegg’s position is more difficult and will take longer to convey.’ Clegg is expected to try to catch the anti-politics mood by describing Labour and the Tories as the old parties and presenting his as the party of change.

A senior Labour strategist tonight predicted Clegg will be the winner because he is new and unknown. But whatever happens, expect every team to claim victory. All three parties are sending big teams up to Manchester to brief the media afterwards in what is being described as either “spin alley” or “the spin room”. The teams will also all be tweeting their man’s victorious exchanges minute by minute.

By then the official verdicts – the polls – will start to pour in, and a winner will be declared. That is, until next week, when the circus reconvenes for another round.

The 90 minute election debate, chaired by Alastair Stewart, will be broadcast live, tonight, on ITV1 at 8:30pm.

Nick Clegg Launches Lib Dem Manifesto

(Guardian) – THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS today projected themselves as the only party that is telling the truth about the economy and promised to “hard-wire” fairness into British society.

At the last of three main party manifesto launches, the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, accused Labour and the Conservatives of having “airbrushed the economy” from their election platforms.

Clegg said his party would claw back 10% of the £40bn lost to the exchequer through tax evasion every year, promising to deliver “the most radical, far-reaching tax reforms in a generation”.

Vince Cable, the party’s treasury spokesman, said the economy was the “elephant in the room” of the election campaign.

Within hours of the launch, at the headquarters of the Bloomberg financial information service in the City of London, Labour said the Lib Dems had underestimated their plan to raise personal tax allowances to £10,000 by £5bn.

The Tories said there was a £10bn “black hole” in the plans.

“All governments want to ensure that people and businesses are paying tax that it’s appropriate for them to be paying, but the Liberal Democrats are making significant claims about this which simply don’t stack up,” the shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, told the BBC.

But the Lib Dems insisted they were fully costed, and said they were the only party being honest about the levels of forthcoming spending restraints.

Cable acknowledged he would have to find further savings to complete the process of getting the deficit under control.

“When you put that together, you’ve got total cuts of £10bn a year,” he said. “You might say: ‘Well that’s fine, but you’ve not solved the problem.'”

Cable said that, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems admitted there would have to be deep cuts after the election.

Although the Lib Dems did not explicitly rule out income tax or VAT rises, Cable said the party’s plans did not require an increase in tax.

“We’re not advocating an increase in taxation,” he said. “British families and businesses are taxed enough already … but it is important that we have a sense of fairness and the solidarity behind that.”

In his speech, Clegg set out to portray the Lib Dems as the party of fairness, with a pledge that nobody would pay income tax on the first £10,000 of earnings.

The party leader said this would be worth £700 a year to millions of people on low and middle incomes, and would free 3.6 million people earning less than £10,000 from paying income tax at all.

Party sources rejected Labour’s suggestion that the policy was poorly costed, saying the Institute for Fiscal Studies would endorse the figures. “The Labour party are making three assumptions that are not true. They think we are also increasing the 40p rate as well as the £10,000 tax threshold, which we are not.

“They are also saying that we are increasing above £10,000 the higher rate of tax-free personal allowance that the over-65s currently get, but we are not. And they don’t acknowledge the fact that we are phasing out the tax free allowance for those on over £100,000.”

The party said its plans would be paid for by the proposals on tax avoidance, as well as a number of other cost-cutting measures. There will be a £400 pay rise cap for public sector workers, government payments into child trust funds would end, child tax credits worth £1.3bn for high earners would be cut, and the availability of winter fuel payments to younger pensioners would be reduced.

The Lib Dems would scrap ID cards and the national intercept database, cut the Eurofighter military jet contract, scale back the HomeBuy shared ownership scheme, reform regional development agencies and scrap seven quangos.

“The other parties have airbrushed the economy out of this election,” Clegg said.

“They are treating people like fools, imagining that manifestos barely fit for times of plenty are enough now. We will give hope married with credibility.

“The two other parties have taught us to expect so little. Our manifesto says, emphatically, no to that kind of politics.

“If you have ever looked at the Lib Dems and thought: ‘Have they got the right ideas?’, this manifesto is your answer. We can and we will.”