5.01 pm Brown's final pitch is entirely about fear that spending cuts will hurt the recovery and damage public services. Brown's and Blair's record has barely been raised. If the Tories want to turf them out, the record should surely be more central. Cameron's closing remarks were, however, the best moment of the night: hope versus fear. Yes, that is the conservative message in Britain: hope versus fear.
4.55 pm. On healthcare: unbelievable pabulum and tedium. They're all vying to help old people, sick people, all people - by spending money and directing government employees. The British policy debate really has shifted leftward in the past decade.
4.50 pm Clegg seems far more critical of Cameron than of Brown. Both Brown and Clegg take aim at inheritance tax cuts for the wealthy.
4.46 pm. Each candidate is vying to spend more money on the socialized medicine system. Only Clegg seems even faintly fiscally responsible: "We're going to need savings in the NHS." Cameron has quarantined the health service as the only government program that won't be cut in the attempt to control the debt.
4.40 pm. Cameron blames Brown for too few helicopters in Afghanistan. He scores a small point.
4.32 pm. The defense debate centers around the pay and equipment of the military. The unpopularity of the Afghanistan war seems simply assumed. Clegg seems to have the most pertinent and concrete proposals. Brown defends the war as a vital means to prevent terrorism that starts in that region. Cameron rather lamely wants a comprehensive defense review. Not that this is wrong; it's just a little banal. Clegg wins this round - especially in the nuclear capacity question.
4.31 pm. An audience questioner: "Good evening, guys." This is a new Britain.
4.29 pm. This election is about six billion pounds - one percent of total UK government spending. The Tories want to cut that. Labour doesn't. And Labour wants a small FICA tax hike. That's it.
4.28 pm. Cameron says that Brown wants to keep on "wasting your money now." Cameron makes a One Nation pitch: "We're going to have to come together on the deficit."
4.26 pm. Brown fear-mongers: the Tories are "a risk to the recovery."
4.23 pm. Brown says any reduction of government spending now will create a double-dip recession. Cameron keeps providing anecdotes of government waste: "cut the waste; drop the tax." Clegg is so right that this is a dishonest debate. Neither side is being honest about the hard fiscal choices. Sound familiar?
4.20 pm. Finally, a real issue. Cameron is saying no to new taxes and yes to ending government "waste" as a way to cut the deficit without stalling the recovery. Clegg details some actual cuts - and then wants to get rid of Britain's nuclear weapon capacity.
4.17 pm. Cameron turns the education topic to taxes and accuses Brown of pioneering a jobs tax, i.e. the proposed FICA tax increase. Brown keeps challenging Cameron on why he isn't spending more. Yes, they're all debating who is going to spend more as Britain faces its biggest deficit in memory.
4.15 pm. Education. As usual, almost impossible to talk about without blather. Cameron's insistence on removing truants seems to go down well but he then digresses into anecdotes about government waste. Yes, they had a massage room for teachers in some government agency. Very American.
4.08 pm Just an anthropological point: Cameron just tried to sum up what they all agree on. It was a classic Alpha Male move. I give him a Beta-plus. Brown so far is combative and smiling his grisly smile constantly. Clegg comes across as a bit of a whiner - which is always the trap for the third party. But he's very effective and telegenic. No question that Clegg and Cameron seem of a different and younger generation. But you can see why nervous voters might find the older bloke a little more reassuring in a pinch.
But if Cameron is trying to prove he is of prime ministerial caliber, he's succeeding. The policy differences are, so far, numbingly small.
4.06 pm Brown's raising the question of hereditary peers in the House of Lords is classic class-baiting Cameron.
4.02 pm. Cameron wants to streamline government - and cut the number of MPs - to reduce the fiddling of parliamentary expense accounts? Shurely shome mishtake. Meanwhile, Brown keeps sucking up to the Lib Dems. A hint of the possibility of a Lib-Lab pact? Cameron fights back with a quite effective parry on the tardiness of Labour's interest in constitutional reform. If they wanted to get rid of hereditary peers, they could have done so in the last 13 years.
4.00 pm. Brown says he was "shocked and sickened" by the expenses scandal among members of parliament. He wants recalls of dodgy MPs. He wants an elected House of Lords.
3.58 pm. Brown is getting very aggressive. He keeps interrupting Cameron. Now there's a jibe about air-brushing. It doesn't seem that fitting for a prime minister. It seems a little insidery. But without imbibing the current atmosphere in Britain lately, it's hard for me to judge how this strategy will go down with the viewers.
3.55 pm. Brown tries to get a rehearsed joke about Tory posters. But he's the first to start bickering and talking about the meta-issues. Another Brown rehearsed line: "This is not Question Time, David. This is Answer Time." Good line. Badly delivered. But Cameron ducks the question on funding of the police.
3.54 pm. Brown offers legal injunctions against the police if a case lags. He's implying that Tory budget cuts could reduce the number of cops on the street. Clegg just keeps repeating that nothing seems to change as the two parties alternate in power.
3.50 pm On crime, more police on the streets seems a common refrain. Cameron wants to get drug addicts off the streets and into rehab. Rehab as an anti-crime measure is unimaginable in an American context. And from the right?
3.48 pm. Cameron touts welfare reform as a cure for immigration excesses. Now he's talking about tougher sentences for burglars and murderers. Not exactly hugging hoodies, is it?
3.44 pm They're all vying to get immigration "under control". Brown rather awkwardly says it already is under control. But he suffers the plight of incumbency. If they've been in office for the past 13 years, it's a little late to get tough. Clegg keeps banging on about regional caps for immigrants - not a national one.
3.39 pm Cameron's hair is much more presidential. And his first immigration answer - a clear vow to reduce immigration levels - seems clearer than Brown's obviously scripted description of his meeting with chefs. Yes, chefs.
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