Gordon Brown deserves an "A" for effort. The poor chap could never be accused of not trying. Much good it does him. As the hour and a half wore on, he was more and more wooden. It is better that he comes across as a backward Ent than as the creature who lurks just beneath his surface: Gollum, enslaved and consumed by the ring of power. But there is no way in which Mr Brown could present himself as an attractive figure.
His supporters would insist that this is an election, not a beauty contest, and they are right. But that should not work in Mr Brown's favour. The election does involve big questions. In each case, Gordon Brown is on the wrong side of the argument. I assume that many Independent readers take a moral approach to politics and are prejudiced against the Tories. They believe that Toryism and morality find it hard to co-exist and that left-wing parties should enjoy a freehold of the moral high ground. Even if all left-wing governments end in failure, their hearts are in the right place. It is not clear that Tories have hearts. Tory governments can never be more than the political wing of the Treasury.
As a good Burkean, I would never come between a man and his prejudices, which are passed down through the generations as a legacy from ancestral wisdom. Yet there are times when some prejudices deserve to be overridden. This is one of them. At this election, high-minded, moral lefties should consider voting Tory, for at least four reasons.
The first is education. Does anyone believe that the current system is working and that most schoolchildren are reaching anything like their full potential? If the answer is no, it surely follows that radical reform is necessary. Only the Tories are offering it. To do so, David Cameron took risks with some of his own supporters. They wanted grammar schools and assisted places: life rafts for clever refugees from the comprehensives. Their approach to education was the one that Tony Blair and Harriet Harman adopted when it came to the education of their own children: devil take the hindmost. But at least the old-fashioned Tories were not hypocrites.
Moreover, grammar schools could have been popular, in the short run. Every ambitious parent would have assumed that their children would have won a grammar school place. The disappointments would have come later. But Mr Cameron rejected the whole approach. Although phrases borrowed from George Bush have a limited resonance in British politics, David Cameron too believes that you must leave no child behind: that a good education should be a right for all children, not a privilege for a minority. It will not be easy to achieve this. There will be plenty of difficulties along the way. Even so, if you are serious about education, it is a way worth taking. The only alternatives on offer are renewed instalments of failure.
The same is true of the underclass and the broken society. We could argue about terminology, and it is true that throughout most of Britain, decent people lead good lives in unbroken neighbourhoods. But that does not justify complacency. Given the scale of the problem in some areas, it is better to use powerful language to galvanise interest than emollient phrases to soothe anxieties. Again, it is easier to identify the problem than to solve it. But David Cameron would bring determination and indeed stubbornness to the task which he has set himself and would set his government. If you regard yourself as a moralist in these matters, have you an alternative to Mr Cameron's Big Society? Do you really want four or five more years of drift and failure? If not, vote Tory.
The other two great questions are less obviously moral. But they will each have profound consequences for the way we live. The first is the recovery, still uncertain and fragile. The deficit will have to be reduced, without causing an economic implosion. These circumstances are unprecedented and there is no simple mathematical formula to guide us through – especially as the most important factor is too elusive to be reduced to algebra. It is confidence. The recovery will only gain momentum when banks have the confidence to lend; employers, to borrow, invest and hire new employees; the bond markets, to buy gilts. If confidence does not return, we could be in for a double-dip recession.
So where is that confidence to come from? The return of Gordon Brown? Absurd. A hung Parliament and a lowest common denominator government? Ditto. Yet again, it will not be easy; yet again, there is no alternative. The Tories had the courage to talk about cuts when Mr Brown was still denying the need for them. Messrs Cameron and Osborne also displayed coolness under fire when they opposed the cut in VAT. That was a unique event: the first time the Opposition ever objected to a tax cut that would have benefited every voter in the country. You do not have to like the Tories. But if you care about the economy, grit your teeth and vote for them.
The fourth big question is Europe. That will surprise those whom I have been trying to persuade, for most of them disapprove of Euroscepticism. But I would respectfully argue that this is the moment for constructive Euro-scepticism, in response to events in Greece, which lead to two inescapable conclusions. Federalism is dead and the eurozone will have to be modified. Future historians are likely to agree that the Lisbon Treaty was the final triumph of the federalist illusion; Greece, the instant and brutal disillusion.
Helmut Kohl created the illusion. He deliberately made Europe unstable. He knew that it would be impossible to sustain a single currency without a political union. The same currency in Stuttgart and Salonika? What a nonsense, unless it were accompanied by large fiscal transfers, which could not happen until the European Union ceased to be an aspiration and became an actual government. Herr Kohl's unstable structure lasted longer than many of us expected. Then came the inevitable reality check, and what happens? Angela Merkel decides that she is a German politician first and a European visionary second.
The short-term consequences of this are unclear. If there is a lot of ruin in a nation, the same applies to a vision sustained by a political elite and a Euro-nomenklatura. Whether it be Marxism, other forms of socialism, apartheid (invented in universities) or European federalism, intellectuals have regularly demonstrated their imperviousness to realism and common sense. When the data do not fit the theory, the data are morally inferior and should be ashamed of themselves. But sooner or later, the data win.
In Europe, that will mean a slow and painful readjustment. How do you extricate yourselves from an unsustainable currency? Drachma-denominated bonds, anyone? But a Tory government would help. David Cameron is a Euro-realist, in favour of free trade and political co-operation, who would help Europe to think its way out of its difficulties – which Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown are incapable of recognising. Throughout Europe, there will be enough federalists in denial; no need to add to them in London.
There is a final issue: Gordon Brown. If he were a boxer, he would not be allowed to fight another bout. He is the archetype of time- expiredness, and there is only one safe way of voting to be rid of him. If you do not want Gollum Brown, vote Tory.