Leaders’ debates 0, football dates 1

First cut is the deepest
The Conservatives still won't say exactly how fast they would cut the Budget deficit, merely stating that they would go "further and faster" than Labour. But in a recent interview with the Financial Times, George Osborne offered an important indicator of the party's direction of travel. The shadow chancellor suggested he favoured a ratio of 80 per cent spending cuts to 20 per cent tax rises, rather than the 67:33 balance that Labour has planned (see chart).

Given the Tory commitment to ring-fence health and international development spending, other departments face savage cuts of up to 20 per cent. Should he become chancellor, Osborne would cut spending by at least £46bn a year by 2013-2014.

Encouragingly for Labour, there are signs that the shadow chancellor's position is beginning to undermine Tory discipline. From the left of the party, Ken Clarke has warned the Tories against making "calamitous" cuts, while from the right, the former cabinet minister Michael Forsyth has urged Osborne to cut spending further - by £75bn a year.

Labour's reluctance to discuss cuts means the Tories' plans have not received the scrutiny they deserve. But Osborne's plan would amount to a huge redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest.

Scheduling balls-up
Those hoping the televised leaders' debates will reignite public interest in politics will be disappointed to learn that they may clash with some of the year's biggest football matches.

The debates are thought to be pencilled in for Wednesdays 14 April (ITV), 21 April (Sky) and 28 April (BBC). The last two are also broadcast dates for the Champions League semi-finals. Producers hoping to reschedule the debates face a tough challenge; Friday and Saturday have already been ruled out, and the Tuesdays and Thursdays of those weeks also feature major football ties, leaving just Sunday and Monday as options.

Fight for the night
The campaign to save general election night continues, with the Speaker, John Bercow, the latest to declare his support for "instant, not slow-motion democracy". The traditional Thursday-night count is under threat from councils desperate to save money: at least 52 local authorities are planning to delay their counts until the morning after polling day, to avoid having to pay staff to work overtime. This includes at least nine seats that the Conservatives need to win to secure a majority.

The City of London has warned that a delayed result could lead to market turmoil as traders bet on the outcome of what is likely to be the closest election since 1992. Gordon Brown has insisted that the issue is a matter for returning officers, but intervening might well give his popularity a boost.

Tory wives
The Tories' marriage tax policy may be damaging their support among women. But might it help them in marginal seats? Blair Freebairn, a contributor to the blog PoliticalBetting, has discovered that the more marginal a seat, the more likely constituents are to be married. Worryingly for Labour, the latest Guardian/ICM poll puts support for the policy among married couples at 78 per cent, compared with overall support of 65 per cent. However, many supporters may be mistakenly assuming the policy would benefit them - new figures suggest that only 6 per cent of married couples would gain from the current plan.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Unforgiven