So, first debate tonight. Quick predictions.
This is make or break for George Osborne. The myth of Saint Vince may take a knock tonight, he is a great commentator but he may come unstuck when he is nailed on policy. Darling is likely to enjoy the benefit of low expectations and will focus on the mastery of detail. The media have whipped up an atmosphere, especially in the Tory press, where George Osborne must be seen to succeed and be credible and convincing. If he is not convincing or, worse, if he blunders - then the calls for him to be replaced by Ken Clarke will continue in the right-wing press and Labour will find their prayers answered - Osborne can't be trusted on the economy. Don't take a risk on the Tories.
The debates will decide this election. The polls are so close that the debates now represent a killer weapon for one party and will provide a possibly fatal blow for another. Could be Clegg. Could be Osborne. We're going to find out over the next few weeks who blows this chance.
Osborne took a gamble today pre-announcing his National Insurance tax cut. Osborne is more similar to Brown than both would accept. Brown had his 1p tax cut disaster. Osborne's tax cuts - on inheritance tax (which deferred the Election that Never Was, but actually was a deal for only a twentieth of the electorate) and this NI cut too will both be found out. With the Tories ring-fencing NHS, overseas aid and unlikely to cut defence spending; they have boxed themselves into the position of cutting taxes and the defecit and pledging no cuts to frontline services. All of this puts the Tories back in the election-losing frame of representing major cuts to public services - which has lost them three elections. And Labour and the Lib Dems can now credibly accuse the Tories of announcing a policy today that will result in greater cuts to the public sector. Will the voters buy that?
Stakes high for Osborne then; both on this policy announcement and on his performance today. I predict that the would-be Chancellor who has the most to lose will lose the most tonight.
PREDICTION: Conservative majority of 12