Interesting debate on C4 tonight - a full hour without adverts of questions to three men who would be Chancellor after May 6. Vince Cable was extremely good, although he could do with looking a little less self-satisfied that he was the lone sage who spotted the imminent collapse of the system - that act is starting to wear a little thin. Alistair Darling had a very slow start, but I think he picked up towards the end and gained confidence. Osborne exceeded expectations, but as I expected him to curl up into a ball and hide behind the podium if the big boys had a go at him, he only had to stay vertical to achieve success. To start with, Osborne looked like a petulant new entrant to the undertaking profession and the petulometer peaked when Cable skewered him over the inheritance tax changes.
There was a lesson here - Osborne was very much at home when he was allowed to spout his inconsistencies and prepared phrases. He should have been challenged more, because there is a fundamental inconsistency with the current approach. I have a suspicion that today's offer to dodge the bullet over the 1% increase in National Insurance may not be the vote-winner that the Conservatives expect. For weeks, they have been moping around the TV studios telling us that all is gloom and doom and that the most important thing is to cut the deficit hard and fast. To then add a further £5.6 billion to the amount that has to be cut seems seriously inconsistent and I wonder if the tax break will be seen by the public as an obvious election bribe.
I'd give tonight's debate as a points victory to Cable, but Darling could have overhauled him if he'd had a better start. Osborne was, in comparison, all adrift and remains the least convincing option as Chancellor.