Will NICs be the deciding factor in the election?

In the run-up to any election, nothing's more juicy than a good debate - and given the position of economic issues at the centre of all three parties' campaigns, this evening's debate between the Chancellor and the chancellors-in-waiting is set to be one of the juciest of all.

And at the forefront of the debate will be national insurance contributions (NICs), after the Conservatives announced this morning they will reverse Darling's planned 1p increase in NICs - a policy which is ' set to form the centrepiece' of the Tory election campaign, according to insiders.

David Cameron has been ranting about the rise since it was announced during the pre-Budget report; ' tax on jobs' being his preferred epithet - but with this announcement, the Tories have bowed to pressure from the shadow cabinet to come up with solid economic policies, rather than vague wafflings about tax cuts.

But will it help the Tories' popularity? With the parties now just five points apart in the polls, and Alistair Darling enjoying a post-Budget surge in popularity, the Tories desperately need tonight's debate to go their way.

While putting off the rise in NICs is a nice idea, I'm not sure it's going to be the Conservatives' election-winning policy: it may have grabbed some nice headlines today, but in reality, given that almost three-quarters of businesses in the UK don't have any employees at all, I doubt it's anything more than an attempt to shore up popularity before tonight's showdown.

Either way, we will see tonight. Just for the record, my money's on Vince Cable to come out on top. Or at least with his dignity intact.

Image: Flickr

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