I think this is one of the most interesting General Election Campaigns in recent history. I am always interested in politics but this time I find myself really wanting to use my vote well. I watched the first leaders' debate on telly with great interest and (how sad am I?) made notes. I am keen to make the right choice in this election as the country faces challenges now and in the future.
So here are a few reflections on what the three would-be Prime Ministers had to say.
On one level, I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats are finally getting a fair deal in terms of coverage of their campaign for a new way of doing politics. The party has often made sense with their policies and having heard Paddy Ashdown speak many years ago, I still believe they have much to offer this country.
However, I also think Nick Clegg really had nothing to lose in the first debate and could, therefore, relax and go for gold. It is so easy to criticise anyone doing a job that you have not done. Wouldn't we all claim that we would make better teachers, doctors etc when things don't go our way? Continually saying that Brown and Cameron were all words not actions sounded like something a schoolboy would say. It might be worth noting at this point that Clegg went to Westminster followed by Cambridge so is hardly from "ordinary" stock.
I listened intently and only identified two policies mentioned by Clegg that differed from anything Brown and Cameron had to say. The big one was the Trident issue and then there was the regional dimension they propse to bring to the immigration system. For years, the Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of demands for electoral reform and a fairer voting system. Gordon Brown, whether through genuine concern or clever strategy, stole their thunder on this one in the debate.
Clegg made some valid points such as prisons being "colleges of crime" for young offenders. However, I think this is old news to most of us. It also is a sweeping statement which ignores some of the valuable projects delivered by a range of organisations within prisons.
I too am concerned about cuts to health services particularly maternity and Accident and Emergency Units. I did not think this was answered fully by Gordon Brown and hope that it will be as the campaign continues.
I was worried when Clegg proposed freedom for teachers. I want my children's teacher to be fully accountable probably more so than they are now. Also reductions to tax credits and child trust funds can only force already cash-strapped families into greater crisis.
So although the media and the public appear to think Clegg won the charm offensive, remember he has been educated in a way that makes this relatively easy and ask for more details on his policies and why they are fair and how he would make them a reality.
The current incumbent in a General Election is always going to be in a position of justifying their past record and trying to "sex up" continual steady progress. In the current economic crisis, that task is going to be a much harder mountain to climb. However, I do feel voters should remember that this is a global crisis that was not invented by Gordon Brown as Cameron would have us believe.
On the whole, I thought Brown responded well with details of past achievements and future plans. It was also good to see him using humour and in quite a powerful way against the hapless Mr Cameron. The jibe about the free publicity on those appalling posters that tell lies about Gordon Brown was a classic.
Sometimes, Brown's hopes were too much. I doubt this country will ever see "prosperity for all" for example. It would be lovely if it did but I think if it was possible, we would have seen that already.
On immigration, Brown could celebrate falling immigration figures but was honest enough to say that this was effectively work in progress with more to be achieved. I never want to see a country where we turn our back on any non-British despite the skills they may bring to us or the crises they are escaping from. With the rise of the British National Party, voters need to work out what they think about immigration and not give in to scare-mongering without doing some proper research into the facts and figures.
On law and order, Brown could draw voters' attention to falling crime figures but again admit he wants to do more. I agree that parents need to take responsibility for their children and would like to see this backed up with greater support on parenting for all and not just those who are seen as economically or socially deprived. I like the idea of the police having to be more accountable to their communities. I guess I am a natural rebel who always thinks authorities need to be viewed with a degree of suspicion!
As someone who has worked locally, regionally and nationally in the third sector, I agree with Brown about young people being involved in purposeful activity and volunteering. However, I hope such concepts are backed up with proper funding for voluntary and community organisations. As someone with a good degree and work experience, I have gone from redundancy to redundancy not because projects have failed but because the funding has dried up. This ensures that learning is not shared in the medium to longer term and talented people leave the sector particulary when parenting or caring responsibilities come into their lives, no longer able to take the financial risks associated with doing good works.
As someone who has worked in and with prisons, it was interesting to hear of a project where if offenders don't reoffend they access jobs. I know that this is just one of many creative initatives where the public, private and voluntary sector are coming together to reduce reoffending rates.
On education, I agree with Brown that there is nothing wrong with setting standards. The devil is in the detail of how this is done and that will adapt and change over time.
On the House of Lords issue, I know it is only privilege and the class system in this country that can possibly explain such an archaic institution. The sooner they go, the better and it is great that there will be a referendum on such issues should Labour get in.
As voters make their choice on 6th May, I hope they listen to Brown's statements that "this is not question time, it's answer time" and "you can't airbrush policies" Whatever your natural instincts for voting in normal times, is this the time to risk the recovery?
The first word I wrote when David Cameron starting speaking was "bollocks" He appeared to think the word "change" was enough to convince us all to vote Tory. He admitted that he would keep some of Labour's "good things".
To an extent, as with Clegg, it is easy for someone not in power to knock someone who is. There is certainly still work to be done on the major issues confronting this country. But then, I think there always will be - immigration, health, education, defence, crime - all these issues will remain.
I thought his use of individual one-off stories was cheap and questioned whether he was presenting the full facts and whether he had the permission to share those stories publicly.
Coming from his Eton and Oxford background with his magistrate mother, he seemed to feel he had the right to ridicule both the other leaders particularly Nick Clegg and also the general public. Did you hear him actually use the term "these people". Any "these people" includes people he should be serving as a Prime Minister. He also was the worst for talking over other people showing no respect for the basic etiquette of debate. The others fell into this too but he was the worst. When asked direct questions, he did not answer them.
It appears that there are real concerns that the finanical promises of the Tories will mean cuts to law and order and education services. Is that what we want? Or do we want to give our children the best possible chances in a difficult global economic crisis and to feel that our families are safe at home and at work.
Also from his background, there is no surprise that he does not want to see his Oxbridge cronies out of the House of Lords. And before anyone thinks I have a chip on my shoulder about Oxbridge, I went and had a blast but also know how certain things work in terms of continuing power structures and networks.
On education, Cameron said he would remove the appeals procedure if a child is excluded from school effectively leaving that decision with one individual and possibly a corrupt one at that.
Cameron keeps banging on about the "jobs tax". It is a red herring. Think back about how big business complained at Labour plans to bring in the National Minimum Wage years ago. They will always feather their nests at the expense of the employees.
Cameron smarmed his way through questions about the Armed Forces. We all respect our Armed Forces and sympathise with those injured and those families who are bereaved. However, Brown has had the real job of tackling changes in the tactics of the enemy and is a proper person who actually write to each family that loses someone in conflict. He does not have to do that - it is nothing to do with politics, it is about him as a decent human being.
There was only one thing that impressed me about Cameron and that was his mention of the plight of carers. The fact that he was quoting from voluntary organisations was obvious to me but probably not to many. However, Brown and Clegg should have got in there first as caring is a huge issue in this country.
independent school and Cambridge educated
wanting new politics (but not clarifying what he means by that)
in favour of electoral reform - a good thing
wanting rid of Trident - you decide
wanting freedom of teachers and a regional dimension to immigration
values-based in reality
still having to take the whipping Blair may well deserve
experienced in Government
has achievements, has done the learning and wants to do more
Eton and Oxford - hence, so in touch with the realities of ordinary people's lives, not!
wanting change for change's sake
wants to divide the nation into "my people" and "these people"
in favour of privileges based on birth not merit
wants finanical changes that would in all likelihood result in cuts to police and teaching workforces
concerned about interests of carers - but then without being harsh, he would be from his own family experience
Well, that's my take on it anyway and I look forward to assessing their input next Thursday