Clegg v Farage debate dates confirmed: who will triumph?
Lib Dem and Ukip leaders to go head to head on radio and television in 'great battle of the minnows'
THE dates have been set for two debates in which Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage will go head to head on Britain’s future in Europe.
Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU of the main parties, and Farage’s Ukip, which wants to withdraw from the EU altogether, have been involved in a growing spat over the issue ahead of May's European elections.
Broadcasters have been in negotiation with the leaders after Farage accepted Clegg’s challenge to a public debate last month. It was announced today that an hour-long televised debate, hosted by David Dimbleby, will be shown on BBC2 at 7pm on 2 April. Questions will come from the audience members, who will be split equally between members of the public for and against EU membership. A radio debate will also take place on LBC at 7pm on 26 March, hosted by Nick Ferrari, in front of a live studio audience.
The two political leaders are already on the attack, with Clegg today accusing Farage of rarely turning up to vote in Brussels, despite being happy to take his taxpayer-funded salary.
Farage hit back on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, accusing the Liberal Democrat leader of hypocrisy. He conceded that his voting record in Brussels was about 50 per cent, but said Clegg has only voted in 22 per cent of votes in this Parliament.
Today’s war of words can be seen as a “dry run” for the debates, says Alex Stevenson on Politics.co.uk. While Clegg’s line of attack backfired and Farage’s response is flawed, the “great battle of the minnows in the debate to come is going to help both parties”, says Stevenson.
Labour's “equivocal attitude” to Europe and mixed messages from the Conservatives leaves the two unashamedly pro- and anti-European parties to grab the headlines, says Stevenson. "When they clash on policy, the results are bound to be fruitful."
In The Guardian, Andrew Rawnsley also thinks the debate will be “mutually beneficial”. Clegg gets a high-profile opportunity to present himself as the principled champion for EU membership, standing up to the right in a way that David Cameron and Ed Miliband will not, he says, while Farage is gifted a big chance to “enthuse his supporters, appeal to ‘out’ Tories and galvanise Europhobes behind his banner”.
Meanwhile, the Mole, The Week’s political insider, says Clegg knows he has “nothing to lose” – he is an unequivocal pro-European facing a whitewash in the May election and he's probably hoping Farage will fall flat on his face.
“On the other hand,” says the Mole, “no one knows better than Clegg what a national debate can do for you – he was the easy winner against Cameron and Gordon Brown in the 2010 general election debates. But then no one knows better how quickly the nation's affection can be withdrawn.”