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Leaders poised for election's final 'great debate'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 28 April 2010

The party leaders will spend the day preparing for tonight's final leaders' debate in Birmingham. It will focus on the economy. But as Gordon Brown discovered yesterday - a campaign can be blown off course by a single comment. Former TV executive Peter McHugh writes for Channel 4 News on how tonight's performances could be crucial.

Second leaders' debate (Getty)

Tuesday 27 April will go down in history as the day Gordon should finally have realised the game was up. And that's before he even went to Rochdale.

Bad enough to be abandoned by Nick on Sunday, but to be turned down by Peppa Pig only two days later was the final straw.

Peppa had been booked to appear with Gordon's chums Yvette and Tessa to stiffen up the all important under-fives' vote, but she clearly saw which way the wind was blowing.

The Sun, desperate to avoid the stigma of being the paper "wot lost it", was said to be scouring every sty in the country to sign up any pig prepared to dish the dirt on Labour. Just another day on the hustings then.

Remember the great debate episode two last week when Dave won it (The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Telegraph) and Nick’s bubble burst? Well somebody forgot to tell him.

Mind you, they also forgot to tell Gordon to take it like a man and quit. So here we are with all three still in the race, if not in the game.

It's the final act in the short running revival of The Nearly Man. Each actor gets one more chance to reprise his part. The audience is on tenterhooks to find out "who dunnit".

It's been a rollercoaster ride for the last seven days. Panic in both Tory and Labour camps, only slightly hidden after the Cleggster's success in Debate One spilled over into outright panic after debate two.

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Having already exposed Clegg as richer than Dave, as well as a Nazi, an atheist and even a Liberal, the cupboard was bare. They were left with only one place to go: not-very-nasty Nick's manifesto.

Dangerous ground for Clegg since history says any Lib Dem document has a reasonable chance of including at least one line usually found in an episode of Looney Tunes.

But they had no choice because the secret that dared not speak its name (a hung parliament) was now on everyone’s lips.

Faced with opinion polls showing only five share points separating all three parties, the Sun - whose political editor Tom Newton Dunn said "My job is to get Cameron f****** elected" - led the charge.

Clegg would have the country saddled with a lame duck government. However, one slight problem was that astute Sun readers might have noticed a pie chart in the piece showing 62 per cent of the nation seemed unbothered.

Labour, now firmly rooted in last place, kept on about concentrating on policy and thereby deflected attention from the fact that they could still end up with the most MPs come election day.

Encouraged by friends, Gordon, already the least popular of the party leaders, decided that what Labour really needed was more of him talking to ordinary folks.

With friends like those…

Nick, having made it clear that any talk of a romance with Gordon was wishful thinking on the part of the Scottish bruiser, proceeded to somewhat de-clarify the situation.

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Dave said he and Nick had never been an item, but refused to rule out a future romance. But having said that (or not, as the case were), he could not resist reminding the electorate that a hung parliament was a bad thing.

The Conservative party political broadcast was apparently a spoof. Floods, plague and pestilence were not exactly threatened, but there could definitely be a run on the pound. Almost all Dave's supporters knew it was a spoof.

But the message seemed to fall on deaf ears back at the Lib Dem headquarters. Not only was he clearly not listening, but Nick got a bit full of himself and revealed that he too secretly fancied the top job.

So there we were at last: all three wanted the job.

And so all was going swimmingly until in stepped the party poopers at the uninvited Institute of Fiscal Studies, who declared they were all crooks.

None of them had told us the truth about cuts. Billions and billions were unaccounted for. Each party has a hole in its finances big enough to bury even their leaders' egos… and the subject of the final debate was the economy.

At last the ground that Gordon has always wanted to fight on: the crisis, and how to get out of it. 10 years as chancellor had honed his arguments. He would be at his best.

And then he went to Rochdale and left his microphone on. Lifetime Labour voter, grandmother Gillian Duffy, became Gordon's ear.

Once asked what could blow a government off course, Harold MacMillan answered: "Events, dear boy, events."

Gordon just had one. Tonight could be another.

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