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The theatre of politics is compelling, but Clegg v Farage was dull

It was like watching two sides prepare for this summer's World Cup three years ago, while unsure whether the event would even happen

I love the theatre of politics. The moments of great theatre are far more compelling to me than ideas or political theory. Yet I found the two debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage incredibly dull. There was so much hype around them in the build-up it was as if we were about to witness Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier.

Part of the dullness arose from the relative insignificance of the event. There will be no In/Out referendum until 2017, and perhaps not then. To deploy another sporting analogy, it was like watching two sides prepare for this summer’s World Cup three years ago, unsure whether the event would even happen.

The format of TV debates is stifling. Both speakers must have more or less the same amount of time. So many topics must be rushed through that there is no space for revelation, only a reiteration of familiar claims. There is no chance for any probing of the speakers, which might reveal what makes them tick.

These constraints were limiting enough with just two participants. Imagine what debates would be like in the election if Farage were included and four leaders had to be given the space to make a few superficial points on a hundred different policies. The debates would be unwatchable.

The absolute maximum for TV debates should be three speakers whatever the claims a fourth or fifth leader might have about appearing too. Politics only works on TV when it is allowed to breathe.