So that’s the second time that immigration has had a major impact upon proceedings this
week. Until we came to the question on that topic, I thought Clegg was bossing the TV debate. He was clear, personable and managed to hover elegantly above Brown and Cameron’s dusty
brawl over spending cuts. But as soon as it came to clarifying Lib Dem policy on an amnesty for illegal immigrants, the wings rapidly fell off the yellow bird of liberty. All of a
sudden, Clegg sounded rattled and unpersuasive. From then on in, it was Cameron’s game.
It helped that Cameron had the clearest – and, I suspect, the most popular – line on immigration: "We would cut immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of
thousands." But, really, the Tory leader’s strongest answer came in a subsequent question on improving opportunities for younger generations. What we got then was what Cameron does
best: the sunshine, the positivity, the sincere concern about our nation’s schooling. We even got a neat summary of Tory school reform plans. As Cameron put it, he wants to see
"choice, diversity and excellence" in the state sector. It was great to hear the Tories’ most impressive policy agenda talked about in such straightforward, unequivocal terms.
As for Brown … well, he was almost a caricature of himself: grey, relentlessly negative and obsessed with the old "cuts vs investment" dividing line. At the beginning of the
debate, I thought some of his attacks had a blunt kind of power to them. But as the show wore on, and as it became clear that this was all he had to offer, he faded more and more out of
view. By the end, with his closing pitch about the Tories’ inheritance tax plans and tax credit cuts, it was unwatchably awful. There was little to distinguish this Brown from the one
who murmured gloomily in the back of a car yesterday.
Early polling seems to be giving it to Cameron, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s enough to deliver the Tories from hung parliament territory. But this was, I think, as good as they
could have hoped for tonight. Brown, the grand enemy of the past thirteen years, is now practically irrelevant. Now all that matters is whether Cameron’s positive message has cut
through to the voters.