2057, PH: We’ll sign off for now. I’ll be back with a summary post shortly.
2057, JF: Osborne gets his closing statement just right, sounding humble and emphasising this is the voter’s choice. I expect Osborne will be very satsified with his night’s work.
2055, PH: And Osborne has the closing word. He’s not quite as direct as Cable – saying that the Lib Dems won’t be in government, and that the Tories have "shown, under the leadership of David Cameron" that they’ve got what it takes – but its a neat enough closer.
2054. PH: Punchy stuff from Cable, who says that you can’t trust Labour because they got us into this mess – and that you can’t trust the Tories because they presided over recessions in the past. It’s slightly worrying for the Tories that he gets a round of applause for saying the Tories want to look out for their rich friends.
2053, PH: Darling says that the government has made the "right call," and that they will do all they can to create jobs.
2052, PH: And that’s it with the questions. All three have a minute to make a final pitch to the audience. Darling first…
2051, JF: Osborne fires off an effective zinger against Vince who has been claiming to be the Cassandra of this recession all night.
One thing to note, Darling makes the quite remarkable claim that Northern Rock was a conventional bank.It wasn’t, it was borrowing from the money market to fund further borrowing. That was an innovation and one that went terribly wrong.
2049, PH: A twenty-something in the audience asks what the parties would do for young people. Cable, Darling and Osborne all talk about apprenticeships, job schemes and the like. It all sounds a bit vague, though.
2048, PH: Cable says that not everyone "failed to spot the problems" in the financial sector. Can you guess who he’s suggesting did?
2046, PH: Osborne’s setting out the Tories’ regulatory reform plans – a kind of de facto Glass-Steagall act. It’s good policy, but I’m not sure this will connect with viewers.
2045, FN: Darling using the phrase "statutory powers" – I think about a fifth of the viewers will have taken this as a queue to see what’s on ITV. I’d love to see the audience dropoff rates from these things.
2044, PH: Osborne says that the Tories, contra Labour, really want to change banking regulation. The Tories’ regulatory framework is a radical policy that they don’t get enough credit for, to my mind.
2042, PH: Good line from Osborne – he says it’s wrong that state-owned banks are paying out big bonuses when small businesses are struggling to get credit.
2042, PH: All agree that bankers’ bonuses need to be controlled. Cable adds that the banks need to be broken up.
2041, JF: Just after the half-hour mark and no decisive moment so far. Vince is having the best showing but Osborne is turning in an effective performance.
2041, FN: Osborne is asked about a "brain drain". Osborne repeats his economically bogus line about it being "difficult to avoid" the 50p tax. "The tax rises on the many are the ones I will avoid, not the tax rises on the few." It’s the many who must pay extra tax, when the cash raised from the richest declines due to the 50p tax.
Vince Cable talks about "pinstriped Scargills" – reprising Clegg’s line to The Spectator. Evidently seen as a success in retrospect.
Darling talks about progress "to eradicate child poverty" – how’s that battle going, eh, Darling? What do the latest figures show? Amazing how Labour can still talk about this with a straight face. Osborne picks up on this, saying social mobility has declined and child poverty is worse.
Cable says that his "top tax priority" is taking millionaires out of inheritance tax. Osborne have him this death stare, and rightly so. Would those be dead millionaires, Vince?
2039, PH: Now it’s Cable’s turn to be political. He says that Osborne’s "tax priority" is to "reduce inheritance tax for millionaires." Perhaps worrying for the Tories, he gets a round of applause for that.
2037, PH: Alistair Darling is being the most bluntly political performer tonight. He’s currently caricaturing the Tory position on tax credits as something that will worsen child poverty.
2035, PH: On a presentational level, at least, Vince Cable sounds strong on tax, as he sets out the Lib Dems’ tax package. Osborne and Darling are just left agreeing that the tax system should be fair.
2034, PH: All three don’t ruel out a rise in VAT. Ed Balls, who wanted to create a dividing line around it, won’t be amused…
2033, FN: The question is on the scandal of public sector pension reforms. Osborne offers the olive branch, saying that if the three parties agree on a deal then we "might be able to get some progress". Not in the British political system: a government majority means the Tories could do what they want without any cross-party alliance.
Osborne goes on the offensive, saying he pulled out of talks with the govermment after it found out about a 10% "death tax". Cable calls that a "perfectly legitimate option". "I just don’t think it’s fair to add a 10% death tax on people to pay for the plan" says Osborne: a clear, firm point that pours some clear blue water. He repeats "10% death tax" again for good measure. Darling does a pretty bad job of denying that was on the cards.
BROWNIE ALERT: Darling claims the G20 members all agree on deficit financing, except the Conservatives. Mark Wood wrote an excellent piece for The Spectator about the axis of cutters, led by Germany including Spain and about to include the Cameron government. Osborne switched it back to death tax, though, so Darling’s little porkie went nowhere.
2030, PH: Osborne starts a good attack – saying that the government introduced a (stamp duty) tax cut last week, that the Tories proposed two years ago. But Darling defuses it by making a joke about "cross-party consensus".
2029, PH: Cable sets out the Lib Dem plans for tax cuts – including making the first £10k of income tax-free. Osborne says that there are some taxes the Tories can’t avoid – including 50p tax. But he then deploys his trump card: the Tories’ NI plan would leave 7 out of 10 people better off. Darling asks, "how come you can do this when there isn’t any money in the bank?"
2026, PH: Darling says that the "death tax" can be "ruled out" for the next Parliament. Most unequivocal statement we’ve heard on that, if so. But Darling seems to stumble a bit as he says it.
2024, PH: Cable says that the death tax is a "reasonable option". That takes some of the bite out of Osborne’s attack.
2023, PH: Osborne is sounding measured, as he says he hopes for a "cross-party consensus" on pensions. Darling claims that maybe the Tories should have done that over social care. Osborne says this was because the government were considering a "death tax".
2020, PH: Darling offers a few platitudes on pensions, and Osborne hits back saying that the Tories offer specifics like put a cap on high-end public sector pensions. So far, Cable is getting the most airtime.
2019, PH: Once again, Alistair Darling denies the IFS’s calculations over cuts. He calls them "predictions" – but they’re actually taken from the Red Book.
2017, JF: Vince is going for the honesty vote, refusing to tell a doctor that there won’t be cuts that affect patient care.
2015, PH: Now onto NHS efficiency. All three men say that there’s room for more efficiency – but Osborne and Cable make more of this, natch. Cable says that no-one can offer guarantees.
2014, PH: Everyone agrees that cuts will need to be deeper than during the Thatcher era. Pretty meaningless, that.
2013, PH: Unsurprisingly, Cable rounds on Osborne too over national insurance. He says that the Tories have lamented Labour’s "efficiency savings" – but are now saying the same themselves. THis gets him the first round of applause of the evening. You can tell that the audience are on Cable’s side.
2012, FN: This is my kind of campaign coverage. Sitting here, free beer in hand, curried chicken on sticks in the Channel Four press room (or "spin room" as the many spads here are calling it). There’s a kind of festive spirit, like the opening of the Edinburgh festival. Strange seeing the spads eye each other nervously, a lot of them have not laid eyes on each other before. No bloggers here, as far as I can see. But, mind you, why would there be? The only difference to being here is that you get free beer and free access to spin doctors. We journalists see no more than you, the viewer, see on your TV. So, comfortable as it is, this "spin room" does seem a bit pointless.
2011, PH: Ohh, it’s kicking off now. Darling calls the Tories’ NI policy "terribly irresponsible". Osborne hits back extremely well, saying that Darling has admitted to waste – so why not cut it?
2010, JF: Whoever did George Osborne’s make up deserves a commendation from CCHQ. They have managed to make Osborne look far less pale than he usually does. This might sound trival but, sadly, image matters in modern politics.
2009, PH: Now, the deficit. Darling says that you don’t want to risk the recovery, but the next spending review will be "tough". Osborne says that he was the "first politician to say that spending needs to be cut" – hm, I think the Lib Dems got there first – and continues that "we’ve got to do this together." Cable has a shopping list of cuts: Trident, ID cards, computer systems, etc.
2007, PH: Osborne says that his values are rooted in a sense of "responsiblity". This is all very civilised so far.
2006, PH: Darling says that he has "tenacity" (and how), and has "made the right calls".
2005, PH: Perfect first question for Vince, as it lets him build up Brand Cable. "What personal qualities do you have for being Chancellor?" He says that he repeatedly warned the government about the signs of the downturn.
2003, PH: Darling’s pitch is, unsurprisingly, all about "protecting the recovery". He says that we need to get the deficit down without harming "frontline services".
2002, PH: Cable is trying to wound inclusive – says "we" a lot. His main point: we need a "new economy," based on "fair taxes" and a wider economic base.
2001, PH: Osborne first. He’s clear and precise, and concentrates on debt. As he puts it: "Five more years of the debt, waste and taxes that got us into this mess aren’t going to get us out."
2000, PH: And here we go. Each contender gets to make an opening pitch for a minute. Osborne first…
1958, PH: Final ad break before it all kicks off. Just time to make a cup of tea.
1947, PH: We’re still waiting for the main event to begin at 2000, but there’s already been almost an hour of build-up on Channel 4. So what have you missed? Well, some tours of the rather psychadelic set; shots of each of the three contenders walking around; and Fraser debating Polly Toynbee on spending cuts.
Oh, and there has been a poll, as well, which has Cable ahead of Darling and Osborne as "best Chancellor". Cable’s on 26 percent, with Darling on 17, and Osborne on 13 percent. But there’s better news for the Tories below the headline figures: 52 percent of repondents want spending cuts this year.