Farage beats Clegg and boosts chances of joining 2015 debates
He may have been sweating - but he didn't 'look nuts' and he's staked his claim as UK's leading Eurosceptic
AFTER 'Godzilla versus King Kong' in the great EU debate last night, there is one question that needs answering: did Nigel Farage do enough to win a place on the platform for the televised leaders’ debates at the next general election?
Farage, the anti-Europe leader of Ukip, was excluded from the televised debates last time. But his team are cock-a-hoop this morning, saying that the level of public support after the LBC debate will make it difficult to deny him a place with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in front of the cameras in 2015.
A strong showing in the EU elections this 22 May could now almost guarantee Ukip a place alongside the big three. Not that last night's debate shed much light on the subject of Europe.
Farage was condemned by the Liberal Democrats today for declaring the EU has “blood on its hands” for encouraging Ukraine to seek closer ties with Europe.
Paddy Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, said on Radio 4's Today programme: “It was an outrageous thing to say – I think this morning he will regret it”.
But Lord Pearson, a leading light in Ukip, said Farage would not be apologising because the Ukraine comment was “justified”.
If it was a slip then it was the only one made by Farage in an hour-long live debate with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg over whether Britain should leave or stay in the EU, hosted by LBC and broadcast simultaneously on Sky News and BBC News 24.
The passionately anti-European Farage emerged as the clear winner in an instant YouGov poll which gave him 57 per cent compared to 36 per cent for Clegg.
But for Farage, the figures did not matter. As the Ukip spin doctor Patrick O’Flynn said, with both David Cameron and Ed Miliband declining to take part in the debate, last night showed that Farage is the leading Eurosceptic voice in Britain.
Cameron, of course, is deeply conflicted: privately he's a a Europhile but as Tory leader he has to acknowledge the deep reservations among party members and backbenchers about EU membership. But by keeping clear last night and trying to ignore the Ukip threat, he has achieved nothing.
In fact, Farage gained more publicity for the live debate than anything he or his party has done since he crashed to earth in a light aircraft that got tangled up in a Ukip banner during the 2010 election campaign.
Even Jeremy Paxman, the BBC Newsnight presenter, had to admit Farage had emerged “not looking completely nuts”.
Nick Clegg, whose party is hovering at around nine or ten per cent in most opinion polls, behind Ukip, also needed the publicity to try to revive his party’s fortunes ahead of the European elections.
Lord Ashdown employed some pretty tortured maths to hail the result of the post-debate poll a success for Clegg. "I think 36 per cent support is three times that enjoyed by his party and probably twice the latent support for his proposition 'Britain in Europe' – I think that is a debating success," said Ashdown.
At least Clegg looked cooler than Farage, who was shiny with sweat, which probably had more to do with his pre-debate visit to the Westminster Arms than nerves. Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail said he was “sweating like an onion on low gas”.
The Independent's Donald Macintyre made a more serious point: the unconventional Farage was clearly impressive against the conventional Clegg. The Ukip leader "may be at heart steeped in 1950s nostalgia", said Macintyre, but he is "a good deal more post-modern about the facts".
Isabel Oakeshott, the former Sunday Times political editor turned Cameron biographer, was also impressed by Farage. She tweeted: "Clegg has adopted a rather pleading manner. Cameron should be very worried by Farage’s performance."
Clegg used figures that people frankly didn’t believe, including an assertion that only seven per cent of laws were imposed on the UK from Brussels, which Clegg said he had got from the House of Commons Library. Farage pulled a face and said even Gordon Brown had admitted more laws were forced on Britain than that.
The YouGov poll showed both leaders enjoyed a ratings boost as a result of the debate, with an increased percentage of respondents saying they had a positive impression of them afterwards.
But what's really clear is that by not taking part, Labour and the Conservatives both lost.