Tomorrow’s debate between Brown, Cameron and Clegg is going to be the most important event of the campaign so far. All the parties are playing the expectations game at the moment—I wouldn’t be surprised if a party claimed that their opponent is the best debater since Cicero—but I suspect that the expectations game will be less important than we expect. There is an instant poll following the debate and that is going to mean that the result of the poll, not the verdicts of the pundits, is going to determine the tone of the coverage over the next few days.
Given the state of the polls and that this is the first of three debates I doubt that anyone will take too many risks tomorrow night. There will be a lot of defensive play. But I expect that Cameron will copy a few of the techniques that Osborne used in the Chancellor’s debate. One thing that stood out in the Chancellor’s debate was how Osborne had crafted his closing statement in advance, which meant that he ended the debate with a punchy, well-directed statement. Expect Cameron to do the same. Osborne also effectively reminded people that the money the state spends is actually taxpayers’ money. Again, I’d be surprised if Cameron doesn’t do the same.