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Time for Dave to get real

Nick Wood's High Noon.

David Cameron should take some comfort from last night's debate. He may not have stalled the Clegg bandwagon, but it is no longer breaking the political speed limit.

Cameron, still more mild-mannered Clark Kent than Superman, slipped into the proverbial phone booth more than once and emerged to give both Clegg and Brown a bloody nose. Clegg was effectively slapped down over his pose as Westminster's Mr Clean and Brown was forced to backtrack over his scurrilous, scaremongering leaflets, which in time-honoured Labour fashion seek to terrify the nation's grannies into sticking with the man who wrecked everyone's old age.

Equally encouraging, the press are still gunning for the Lib Dems. Today's papers declared Cameron the winner and we can confidently expect more media scrutiny of Clegg and his party over the coming days.

Newspapers may not have the influence of the 80s and 90s. But it is hard to imagine that a sustained barrage of bad headlines will fail to pull the Lib Dem's poll rating back towards the mid-20s.

Certainly, that is what Cameron needs: Labour and the Lib Dems slugging it out around the mid 20s and the Conservatives north of 35 per cent.

Easy to say. Harder to achieve. What is the best message for the Tories over the next week or so?

The polls all point to a hung Parliament and one in which Labour have just enough seats (even if they come third in the popular vote) to do a deal with the Lib Dems. Yes, vote Clegg get Brown. But as Ken Clarke has been so energetically arguing it is time to move the argument on  - a hung Parliament will plunge Britain into economic and political crisis.

At a time when the country is desperately in need of clear, strong decisive government, it will find itself paralysed by endless haggling, rows and horse-trading as Labour and the Liberals agree only the policies of the lowest common denominator.

The pound will be under pressure. Interest rates will rise. Stock markets and house prices will fall. The fragile recovery will be jeopardised. Firms will go bust and jobs will be lost. Living standards will fall. The deficit will loom over us like a permanent cloud of volcanic ash. Public spending will continue to race out of control. Welfare will remain unreformed. Taxes will rise, especially on the hard-working middle classes and the wealth creators. The City will take another hit. Europe will flex its muscles afresh. Troops fighting in the Afghan deserts will lack for leadership and support at home. Our international status as a nuclear power will be called into question. The trumpet will give out an uncertain note as Britain indeed becomes a second class power.

Clegg talks about real change, fundamental change. He is right. All of the above represents fundamental change. Thirteen years of Labour misrule has been bad enough, but you ain't seen nothing yet. So if you want to see your country brought to its knees and your family beggared, vote for the fresh-faced kid on the telly.

David Cameron and his supporters can rescue the country from this nightmare. But they are going to have to tell it as it is - and fast.

Nick Wood of Media Intelligence Partners.


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