Election 2010 climax: The final leaders’ debate

By Ian Dunt

The three major party leaders have gone head-to-head for the last time, in an outspoken and colourful leaders’ debate.

Mr Brown was especially open, bringing up yesterday’s ‘bigot’ gaffe almost immediately.

“There’s a lot to this job and as you saw yesterday I don’t get all of it right,” he said.

Final leaders’ debate blog

He later added: “I know that if things stay where they are David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, will be in office.”

The prime minister argued he made the right calls on the big decisions during the financial crisis.

“Support the economy now and you will ensure there are jobs and a recovery,” he said.

The polls: Instant reaction to the third leaders’ debate

“Shrink the economy now and there’s a risk to jobs.”

Nick Clegg, who has gained the most from the TV debates, made change the centrepiece of his pitch to voters.

“Tonight’s debate is about you – about your job, the taxes you pay, your family, the prosperity of our country,” he said.

Comment: The most tedious debate leaves Clegg still winning

“We need to do things differently to build a new, stronger, fairer economy.

“The way they got us into this mess is not the way out.”

David Cameron pledged to cut welfare dependency, fix banks, get value for money from public services and not enter the euro.

Leaders’ debate reaction from the spin room

“Let me tell you one thing I wouldn’t do,” he said.

“With Greece so much in the news, I can guarantee you that I would never join the euro and I would keep the pound as our currency.

“That’s the change we need and if you vote Conservative next Thursday, we can start to get to work on Friday.”

Comment: No game-changing moments in final leaders’ debate

The most bruising part of the debate came when the three leaders discussed immigration, in a conversation with overtones of yesterday’s fiasco between Mr Brown and former Labour supporter Gillian Duffy.

During the debate Mr Cameron made his case for an annual cap on immigration, Mr Clegg put forward the argument for a conditional amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants and Mr Brown stressed that the newly-adopted points-based system was working well.

The three men also clashed on cutting the deficit, inheritance tax, the EU and child tax credits.

Sketch: King of spin causes chaos

In his closing statement, Mr Clegg said: “As you decide how to cast your vote, of course you’ll be told by these two, that real change is dangerous, that it can’t be done.

“Don’t let anyone scare you from following your instincts. This is your election. This is your country.

“When you go to vote next week, choose the future you really want.

“If you believe like I do that we can do things differently this time, then together we will really change Britain.”

In his closing statement, Mr Brown said: “There are big causes we can fight for.
“I know that if things stay where they are David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, will be in office.

“I don’t like having to do this but I’ve got to tell you things are too important to be left to risky policies by these two people. They are not ready for government.”

In his closing statement Mr Cameron said: “I’m standing here for a very simple reason. I love this country and we can do even better in the years ahead.

“But there’s something else you need to know about me. I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the vulnerable. There will be difficult decisions but I want to lead us through those to better times ahead.”

Immediate polling appeared to give Mr Cameron a very slim advantage, with Mr Clegg in second place and Mr Brown is third, although more accurate figures will not available until later.

The broadcast was the last leaders’ debate ahead of the general election, which sees Britain go to the polls next Thursday.