Clegg vs Farage: Both leaders achieved what they set out to do

But this put paid to TV debates ahead of the general election

Share

And the winner is … David Cameron. Of the two who actually took part, Nigel Farage had the better of last night’s debate, in that his argument was simpler, more authentic, and presented with touches of humour. Nick Clegg was judged to have “lost” the engagement in YouGov’s instant poll, but it served him well enough. With the Liberal Democrats currently at 10 per cent in the opinion polls, to have 36 per cent judging him the “winner” of the debate is a net gain.

Farage, judged the winner by 57 per cent, had the advantage of being right about the free movement of workers, saying that the entire population of the rest of the EU is entitled to move to this country. Clegg's counter-argument was that UKIP had said that the combined population of Romania and Bulgaria is 29 million when really it is 28 and a half million.

He sounded equally unconvincing when he said that we had to stay in the EU because it gave us "clout". This came across as a kind of Green Shield stamps for politicians: an incentive scheme involving collecting points to be redeemed for shiny baubles. Only when he made a more specific argument about negotiating trade agreements with other countries - trade agreements on which British jobs depended - did the argument become credible. Farage had a counter to that, which was that Britain was perfectly capable of negotiating trade deals itself. That argument ground to a draw, as Clegg got to the point where he said that if EU membership created just one extra job it would be worth it. In other words, it may not be as many as 3 million jobs that depend on EU membership, but as long as it is a net positive in the employment figures, it is worth it. Well, possibly.

Clegg's economic argument worked better when he mentioned companies that people had heard of, and Farage was weak when he said that the rest of Europe needed our market more than we needed theirs. Well, theirs is bigger than ours, to be blunt: expect more of this in next week's second exciting instalment of the debate on BBC2.

Clegg made a resonant mistake when he was challenged over a Liberal Democrat leaflet promising a referendum on British membership of the EU. "Read the small print," he said. That was his argument throughout: never mind what seems obvious, I have some prepared sound bites here that say it isn't so.

Against this obfuscation, Farage's plain man act prevailed easily. "Oh dear, oh dear. What are you on about?" But it shaded too easily into moth-ball mythology, and Farage began to lose ground when he talked about Anglo-Saxon culture, habeas corpus and the Commonwealth. He needs to portray Clegg and the Euro-elite as backward looking, rather than sounding like an Empire loyalist himself.

Yet he and Clegg achieved what they set out to do. They both succeeded in attracting huge publicity and reinforcing their bases of support. People don't pay much attention to politics and when they do it is things such as finding out that we pay child benefit for 45,000 children in other EU countries that cut through. But Clegg succeeded too - he made the jobs argument strongly and achieved definition as the supporter of the EU.

And a triumph for LBC too, the newly national radio station that staged the debate. Not that it was LBC's idea - that credit should be taken by Ryan Coetzee, Clegg's director of strategy.

There were two larger consequences of last night. One is that the TV debates between the main party leaders are even more certain not to happen in the general election campaign. Last night happened because it was in the interest of both leaders. Clegg didn't mind "losing" because he had nothing to lose, but he lost partly because he is the unpopular government politician. The incumbent usually has more to lose, which is why David Cameron will find ways by which the TV debates will not happen.

But the other consequence is more important. Last night's debate was between two clear poles of an argument. In unconditionally versus out unconditionally. And we know where the British voter prefers to be when presented with a choice like that.

David Cameron's policy will be easily most popular position when it comes to the general election next year. "Renegotiate and decide" is the third-way winner.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas