Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Emotional Nick Clegg stalls in a game of two halves


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Indy Politics

Did Nick Clegg get as emotional as we were told he would? Well yes. (Even if it’s a bit odd to be briefed in advance about something as supposedly spontaneous as emotion). Indeed, at times he was so pumped up he seemed to believe that only a total demolition job on Nigel Farage would stop us leaving the EU this week, let alone in 2017.

Farage was such a believer in conspiracy theories that he thought the “moon landing didn’t happen, Barack Obama isn’t an American, and Elvis isn’t dead”. And such a nostalgic that he’d be asking next for a return to the gold standard and for “WG Grace to open the batting for England”. His claims about 485 million people being free to come to Britain was as absurd as suggesting that “five million Scots were going to move to Orpington” (admittedly a terrifying prospect).

Some lines were better than others. He was the leader of “the party of in” and Farage, now rather struggling to defend his  admiration for the Russian President as an “operator”, was “the leader of Put-in”. No Nick – back to the drawing board with this one!

But his real first half hit was palpable – brandishing a UKIP leaflet showing a native American in full headdress over the caption “He used to ignore immigration. Now he lives in a reservation.” (Never mind that “ignoring” immigration was not exactly an option for American Indians). Seriously on the back foot  – which  he wasn’t for much of the time – Farage said he did not “recognise” the leaflet; all “sorts of things get put out”. He didn’t agree with the “sentiment.” Touche, in other words.

But Nigel – or “Nick” as he was  addressed at one point by David Dimbleby, whose role as presenter alone testifies  to the gigantic  importance attached to the debate in the media-political complex – Farage had  a better second half, which is presumably why the instant poll went  heavily in his favour.

Nigel “I’m not a career politician” Farage remains in many respects a dangerously logic-free zone. It’s a bit rich, from a party which has been boasting about swallowing up BNP members, to express high-minded fears about “worrying political extremism” in Europe. And his hope that all the other member states of the EU might follow Britain’s example in walking out was, to put it mildly, ambitious. But then Clegg’s own answer to the same question – about what the EU would  be like in 10 years – that it wouldn’t be that different was fairly  lame. The pro-Europeans are going to have to do better than this.