Tonight’s second televised clash between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage is set to become personal as the two leaders attempt to land a knockout blow on their rival.
Mr Clegg said he would seek to counter the Ukip leader’s “misinformation” about European Union membership in tonight’s debate to be broadcast by BBC 2.
Meanwhile, Mr Farage is expected to brand the Liberal Democrat leader as a Brussels insider who is out of touch with the views of ordinary Britons.
The Ukip leader emerged as the “winner” of last week’s showdown according to a snap poll of viewers by YouGov.
Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, played down the significance of that survey, arguing: “Of course there are going to be people who disagree with me because there are people who agree with Nigel Farage that we should somehow be cut off and isolated in the world. I don’t think that’s the kind of positive future I see for our country.”
He added: “Nigel Farage is part of a group of people who have been pumping out misinformation for year after year after year. That’s not going to be reversed in one or even two hours of debate, but since no one else is prepared to actually tell the truth, spell it out like it is, that it makes no sense to be isolated in this world, that we’ve got to work with others to keep ourselves safe, to keep the economy strong, I’m going to continue to do that.”
He will also criticise Mr Farage for remarks in which the Ukip leader praised Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admired.
The Ukip leader predicted there would be a “ding-dong” over the comments. He said: “They’re going to have a go at me over Putin because I’ve been wildly misquoted over that. “I was asked a couple of months ago which world leader did I admire and I said Vladimir Putin as an operator, particularly the way he managed to stop the West getting militarily involved in Syria, but I don’t like him, I wouldn’t want to live there and I don’t like him as a human being.”
Ukip said last week’s confrontation had produced a surge in interest that has taken its membership above 35,000 for the first time.
Mr Farage said: “This is great - UKIP, mocked and derided, our arguments written off as being mad and extreme - and here we are on national television having a debate.”
A poster launched by the Liberal Democrats ahead of the debate mocks the Prime Minister and Labour leader as “missing in action”, claiming it is the only party “standing up for British jobs”.
Party president Tim Farron said: “David Cameron and Ed Miliband have ducked these debates. Nick Clegg is the only political leader prepared to put his neck on the line.”
Lord Heseltine, the Tory former Deputy Prime Minister, tore into Ukip ahead of the debate, comparing it to far-right movements at home and abroad.
Claiming that Ukip had a “racist undertone” he likened it to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and the views held by Enoch Powell, as well as Marine Le Pen’s Front National which has just scored a series of successes in French local elections.
Recalling he was “the first Conservative to criticise Enoch Powell”, he said: “The racial overtones that are within the Ukip movement have got the same motivation [and] psychological impact as Mosley in the Twenties and Thirties, as Powell in the Sixties, Le Pen in France, the hard right in Holland and in Germany. It’s all the same stuff.”
He told New Statesman magazine that he stood by his description of the Ukip – which he referred to as the "UK Isolationist Party" – as racist. He said: “There is a racist undertone, there’s no question about it.”