Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Battle for Your Vote

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Battle for Your Vote

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Woodcock

THE three men vying to be Prime Minister clashed over the economy, defence and care for the elderly last night in Britain's first televised general election leaders' debate.

Before a live studio audience in Manchester and millions more watching at home, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg outlined stark differences over the key issue of ensuring recovery from the recession.

While Mr Cameron said the Prime Minister was planning to "go on wasting now so I can put up your taxes later", Mr Brown responded that Tory plans to cut pounds 6bn from government spending risked tipping Britain into a "double-dip recession".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg accused the other two of "sounding exactly the same". All parties recognised that cuts must be made and the question for voters was: "Who is going to be straight with you about the scale of those cuts?" The 90-minute debate on ITV1 was the first of a series of three, with further clashes on Sky News and BBC1 on the two remaining Thursdays before May 6. After the launch of the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos earlier this week, there were no new policy announcements.

Strict rules banning the audience from applauding and the candidates from interrupting one another meant the debate never descended into the passionate, bear-pit atmosphere of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

But there were moments of conflict. Mr Brown challenged the Conservative leader repeatedly over whether he would match Labour plans for police spending, telling him: "It's answer time, David."

And he challenged Mr Cameron to "be honest" that his plans would cost "thousands of jobs, including teachers". Meanwhile, the Tory leader said the Prime Minister was "misleading" voters by claiming that British troops' shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan was due to a change in tactics by the Taliban rather than under-funding from the Treasury.

Mr Cameron also accused Mr Clegg of being "holier than thou", after the Lib Dem leader pointed out that none of his MPs were caught out "flipping" homes or avoiding Capital Gains Tax.

Mr Brown appeared to try to secure the support of the Lib Dem leader by repeatedly saying he agreed with him on issues like parliamentary reform.

But Mr Clegg responded that he was "absolutely dismayed" to hear Mr Brown trying to make a show of unity over voting reform after opposing it during his time in power.

The fiercest exchanges came as the leaders debated the recovery from recession and the Conservative plans to cut pounds 6bn from government spending this year to fund the reversal of the planned National Insurance rise.

Mr Cameron reeled off examples of waste which could be cut from government spending, such as a Lexus car for police, a "contemplation suite" in a public building and civil servant credit cards. …

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