In final UK election debate, candidates dodge No. 1 issue: the deficit
David Cameron topped snap polls after last night's final debate ahead of the May 6 UK election. But he, Brown, and Clegg all stand accused of avoiding discussion of how to reduce Britain's massive deficit.
With the dust still settling the morning after a bruising final televised debate ahead of next Thursday’s general election, the leaders of Britain’s three main parties stand accused of failing to face up to the 800-lb. gorilla in their living room: just how the next government will to tackle the UK’s massive deficit.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Conservative leader David Cameron was judged by polls to have narrowly prevailed over his rivals in last night’s debate, which was devoted to the economy. But no one got credit for plugging the gaping holes in the parties’ plans to tackle Britain’s public spending.
The lack of candor stems from all three leaders' recognition that it is politically perilous to come clean about the pain that will result from sweeping and virtually inevitable government cuts ahead, say analysts.
“It would be electoral suicide,” says Michael Wickens, one of an array of eminent economists who penned an open letter earlier this year warning of the urgent need to wipe out Britain’s underlying structural deficit within five years.
Austerity measures could sink next government?
Ahead of the debate, there was an illustration of what lies ahead for the UK when it was reported that the Bank of England’s governor, Mervyn King, had told an Australian economist friend that the incoming government would be so unpopular after unleashing the necessary austerity measures that it would not be elected again for a generation.
Nevertheless, the leaders still seized on their final chance last night to make their pitch to the British public.
Seeking to bounce back from a disastrous incident on Wednesday in which he called an elderly woman a "bigot," Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that a government headed by Mr. Cameron would risk killing the fragile recovery by slashing spending too quickly and implementing the sort of hard-line cuts implemented by previous Tory administrations of the 1980s and 1930s.
The Conservative leader countered by accusing his Labour opponent of desperation, telling viewers in his last pitch: “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.”
Nick Clegg, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, had one of his best moments in an upbeat closing speech designed to appeal to voters still unsure if his party’s surge in the polls can be translated into a real result next week.
“Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t happen, it can. This time you can make the difference,” he said.
Brown: weak polling, disrupted campaign events
Polls published after the debate suggested viewers felt Mr. Cameron won.
A YouGov poll for The Sun newspaper recorded 41 percent of people saying he had performed best, compared to 32 percent for Mr. Clegg and 25 percent for Mr. Brown.