It was the one moment that the party campaign managers couldn’t finely control.
The only moments in the current election that have produced any excitement or interest have been the debates between the party leaders. It was the one moment that the party campaign managers couldn’t finely control.
What has been remarkable about this election is how the major party leaders have avoided contact with the general public. They have been determined to avoid Gordon Brown’s Gillian Duffy moment when Brown described a voter as a "bigot". Time was when Harold Wilson relished putting down hecklers. Today a heckler wouldn’t get within a mile of Cameron, Clegg or Miliband.
During the debates, the three anti-austerity candidates - Leanne Wood, of Plaid Cymru; Natalie Bennett, of the Green Party; and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP - wiped the floor with the leaders of the establishment parties. By the end, a sizeable proportion of English voters wanted to know if they could vote for the SNP.
We now have the absurd situation of those who proclaim their devotion to the United Kingdom doing their best to delegitimise one section of it. The SNP represent more than 40% of the Scottish population and to pretend they have no place in the UK’s government is a recipe for independence.
Nicola Sturgeon was the clear winner of the debates as she promised to make an honest man of Miliband. Never was it truer that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Politics has been reduced to eliminating the deficit, even though taxes for the rich will be cut (Cameron, Clegg). Miliband has decided to blunt the Tory attack by getting his surrender in first. He accepts that everything should be costed first (as if government is simply a matter of a train with a fixed timetable).
I wonder what Clement Attlee, perhaps our least-charismatic prime minister would have done, if he had been expected to cost his proposals. Britain was bankrupt after the Second World War. It was forced to go cap in hand to the United States for a $3 billion loan and it had been forced to accept, in the days of the sterling pool, the convertability of sterling with other currencies (which, in 1947, led to a run on the pound before being withdrawn).
If Hugh Dalton, Labour’s then chancellor, had been forced to "cost" the new NHS and the welfare state, we would have had neither. What Labour did was to set out its goals and priorities and then find the money to pay for it. The timid bank-clerk mentality of Miliband and Balls stands in stark contrast to the steely determination of the 1945 Labour government.
Consider Labour’s reaction to the Tory promise to extend the right to buy to housing association properties. Instead of promising an end to the right to buy council houses and savaging Cameron for having nothing to say about homelessness, their cowardly response was that the Tories hadn’t costed it! Labour could have pointed out that a further decline in social housing will simply mean councils have to pay out even more for emergency accommodation for vulnerable groups. In the words of Oscar Wilde, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
If Cameron proposed to bring back hanging, Miliband’s reflex would be to attack him for not costing the building of gallows and the training of a new generation of hangmen.
Buy to let is the most profitable form of investment, creating absolutely nothing and subsidised by housing benefit. We have unprecedented levels of private renting, but on this Labour has nothing to say. Security of tenure, the right not to be evicted at the whim of a landlord and not having to pay disproportionate amounts of one’s income for the right to a roof over one’s head, that is controlled rents would be popular. So would the renationalisation of the railways.
There is an universal consensus that no party will gain an overall majority - although Cameron’s conservatives are likely to emerge as the biggest party. What are the options for radical and socialist voters?
Voters in Brighton Pavilion can vote for Caroline Lucas. In Hove, there is Dave Hill, a former Labour councillor who is standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. In Kemptown, I would be tempted to vote for Nancy Platts, a Labour candidate who is on the left in a marginal seat.
But the election overall heralds no change in a situation where nearly one-third of children live in poverty and the top 1% of society own as much as the poorest 55% of society.