John Lichfield: The debate and Europe

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The Independent Online

A large blue and yellow elephant had been standing unnoticed in the room of British electoral politics – until last night. Euro-quarrels seem to dominate British politics, except at election time.

Hooray, then, for Chris Nelmes of Bristol who put the first question in last night's debate. Could the party leaders explain what, if anything, they thought Britain got out of the EU?

Gordon Brown made a rather plodding argument for the EU as a guarantee of British jobs.David Cameron assured our EU partners - who are increasingly anxious about what a Conservative government might bring - that he would "cooperate and work with" the European Union.

Nick Clegg asked why, in that case, had the Euro-Tories abandoned the Euro-mainstream in Brussels and Stasbourg to ally themselves with "nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes."

Good question. Mr Clegg also did something which is rarely achieved by UK politicians: he made a moderate, practical argument - rooted in personal experience - for the EU as a flawed but necessary part of the 21st-century political landscape.

It was good, finally, to hear the issues debated in a reasonable way: or debated at all. But Mr Cameron, finally, dodged the big question: would a Conservative government, backed by a a heavily eurosceptic parliamentary party, feel obliged to wage war in Brussels?

John Lichfield is Paris Correspondent for The Independent