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Chancellors debate economy ahead of election

By Faisal Islam

Updated on 29 March 2010

Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable will tonight face-off in an unprecedented primetime televised election debate, live at 8pm on Channel 4 and here on

Chancellor and shadow Chancellors

The three candidates for the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer will face each other for the first time to debate questions from both a live studio audience and Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

The debate was arranged by Channel 4 in response to the aftermath of the worst British recession since the 1920s, which saw the near-bankruptcy of half the UK banking system.

As the gap in opinion polls has closed, and voters place the economy as the number one election issue, the Ask the Chancellors debate has become central to the election.

In an editorial this morning's Times argued that: "With the public finances in such disarray and at a time of fragile recovery, this may be the debate that really counts".

The Observer believes that "everyone from the leaders down to officials and grassroots activists will be glued to their televisions or computers, watching with a mixture of fear and hope".

The Spectator writes that: "The Chancellor's debate is going to be one of the key set pieces of the campaign".

For more Channel 4 News coverage of Ask the Chancellors Debate
- Ask the Chancellors
- Osborne to block national insurance rises
- Ask the Chancellors: the only debate that really matters

The Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has this morning dramatically attempted to seize the policy initiative on debate day with a plan to part-reverse a rise in National Insurance, planned by the government for April 2011.

The government is expected to announce a so-called 'People's Bank' to fund low cost mortgages.

In the debate, Mr Osborne is also expected to outline his more immediate, faster approach to cutting Britain's record budget deficit.

Mr Darling is expected to concentrate on his stewardship of the economy during the crisis which saw the official recession draw to a close in December.

Mr Cable is expected to stress what he argues is a more transparent approach to public spending cuts.

After two-and-a-half years of economic turmoil, the one-hour debate is expected to be wide-ranging, though none of the protagonists will have advance notice of the questions.

Although all parties concede that the next Parliament will see wide-ranging cuts to public services, there are disagreements over speed and timing.

The parties have contrasting prescriptions for Britain's fragile banking system; the thorny issue of bankers' pay, and do not agree over the blame for the crisis.

Under the rules of the debate, agreed by the parties, the audience questions need to be 'neutral', or equally applicable to all three debate participants.

The 'Chancellors' will all have the chance to make short closing and opening statements, but the debate rulebook is far simpler than that agreed for the three Leaders' Debates in April.

The format has been designed to allow direct engagement between the three participants, if they choose to do so.

It is the only scheduled debate between the politicians vying to be in number 11 Downing Street.

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