Both Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg won last night, in the first of their televised clashes on Britain and Europe. Mr Farage because of the oxygen to his cause, Mr Clegg because he gets to remind the public that he stands for something other than pulling the Conservative right’s choke chain.
Credit to both men for appearing. As weeknight television goes, it’s not box office, but if our political leaders lived less fearfully these skirmishes would be routine on a variety of topics - and our democracy would be healthier. The Prime Minister has so far stonewalled on appearing in a leaders debate ahead of the general election in 13 months. His team will not be any friendlier to the idea after last night. More the pity. Some Conservatives blame the 2010 debates for robbing them of a majority government. But if Mr Cameron loses this time his advisers will have plenty of time to reflect on a failure to be bold.
Nick Clegg was more accomplished on the detail, drawing blood on jobs, trade and investment, arrest warrants and EU laws.
But the belligerent Mr Farage struck home powerfully on the bigger picture, aiming for the heart. He spoke to people alienated by Westminster politics and rejoiced in fears of migration.
A snap-poll of 1,003 voters immediately after the debate found that 57 per cent thought that Mr Farage had “won”, while 36 per cent went for Mr Clegg.
You can make up your own mind about the merits of each man’s arguments. Our coverage of last night’s fiery encounter between the two leaders is to be found here. They resume combat on LBC and BBC2 next Wednesday evening.