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David Cameron to take centre-stage in tonight's leaders' debate

Leader debates logo The day of the first ever TV leaders' debate during a British General Election has finally arrived.

Tonight, at 8.30pm on ITV1, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown will go head to head in a debate chaired by Alistair Stewart which will concentrate on domestic affairs (excluding the economy).

David Cameron will be centre-stage for the encounter (with Clegg on the left of the screen and Brown on the right), which is being filmed at Granada's studios in Manchester and will also be aired live on BBC Radio 4.

The word "historic" is used liberally among this morning's media reports, with all the inevitable comparison to the US Presidential debates.

But will it make any difference to the outcome of the election? Today's Independent carries the headline "Ninety minutes that could change Britain", citing research by ComRes showing that the votes of half of those watching could be influenced by the debate, whilst Mori research for the Daily Express puts the figure at nearer two thirds.

Much is made of the fact that Clegg is being given equal prominence as the two other leaders, with the Times calling it a "once-in-a-generation chance to power the Liberal Democrats to prominence", whilst the Guardian reports that both Labour and Tory teams have already been "jockeying to present themselves as the underdog".

There is of course the danger that the whole event could be an anti-climax and fail to live up to all the hype, as Stephan Shakespeare suggested earlier in the week. David Cameron is quoted in the Daily Telegraph this morning as fearing that it could be "slow and sluggish". The leaders will probably - at the very least for this first debate - be erring on the side of caution and be most concerned about coming out the other side unscathed having not committed gaffes, rather than taking risks.

Nevertheless, as I wrote here when the leaders agreed to the debates, I think these debates are a positive development, not least because it will see millions of people engaging with the political process, at a time when public disillusionment with politics is at an all-time high.

Those of us in the blue corner should be confident that as a now seasoned politician and TV performer, David Cameron will give a good account of the optimistic Conservative vision for Britain, whilst exposing Labour's failures in a serious, yet personable way. The friendly advice we provided here yesterday should help his final preparations.

Needless to say, ConservativeHome will be live-blogging the debate, as well as providing post-debate analysis from a panel of leading commentators.

Jonathan Isaby


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