• This government has done a lot to help pensioners: Following a question on how savers have been negatively affected by low interest rates, Osborne pointed to pensioner bonds and used the words ‘savers’ and ‘pensioners’ interchangeably. A later question, on older people struggling in their homes during the winter, drew a response that not only covered the ring-fenced universal winter heating allowance but also the government’s ‘triple-lock’ state pension policy. The Tories are all about the grey vote.

 

  • Zero hours job contracts are still a Tory weakness: The only time Osborne looked uncomfortable was when he’d responded to a question on zero hour contracts by saying the government had removed exclusivity clauses from those contracts, only for the questioner to say it wasn’t good enough and too many young people are still struggling to find proper work. Osborne said that an expanding economy is the best answer, but it felt like he failed to really address the young questioner’s concerns. There are too many undecided young voters to not be able to put that one to bed.

 

  • The Tory EU line jars with their trade line: Saying that the UK needs to export more, then to defend the party’s EU referendum promise felt counter-intuitive. The Chancellor said that increasing trade was a top priority, but then said that businesses complain about EU red tape and that it’s more democratic to give young people a say. Some would argue that this stance is attempting to please both sides; a policy area is a priority or it isn’t.

 

  • Osborne dodged a housebuilding bullet: This government has a weak track record on housebuilding and Osborne was quick to throw up his hands on this. Unfortunately, there was no-one there to accept his surrender. The host and questioners had an opportunity to drill the argument home, but Osborne’s vague three step plan for improving homeownership (economic stability, help homebuilders get finance and help people buy houses) was not given the stress-test it should have received.

 

  • Labour has strong policies and the man to deliver them: Balls showed that Labour has policies that are well-received. Whereas Osborne struggled to deliver a tight response on business rates, Balls’ confident line, ‘switch corporation tax break to help businesses: each SME saves £470 a year” is clean, understandable and likeable.

 

  • Labour legacy is still a weakness: Asked when Labour would apologise for the “mess” it left in 2010, Balls apologised for not regulating the banks enough. Later when discussing tax plans, he said that “one problem I have” is that Osborne has failed to get rid of the deficit, but voters still remember Balls in the Commons in recent years loudly protesting that the Tory cuts were “too far, too fast”. Labour can’t have it both ways.

 

  • Labour’s EU stance is strong: Balls said that when he visited the White House and Fed recently, the Americans couldn’t understand why the UK would leave the EU. Saying it was “risky and dangerous”, he pointed out that leaving the EU could see big employers move to Europe to maintain access to the Single Market. Strong soundbite stance for Labour.

 

  • It’s all relative: Balls made a good case for the mansion tax and increasing the top rate of tax, but his argument quickly looked insufficient when his proposed £3bn revenue from the top rate of tax increase was put in context with the £90bn deficit. The audience member bluntly asked, “when are you going to start cutting the big stuff?”, Balls had nothing.

 

  • Not a great start for broadcasters: After the amount of time and effort that broadcasters have spent trying to get politicians on the TV, it was an interesting move by Sky to cut off the Chancellor of the Exchequer mid-answer to go to an ad break. Not a great start.