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Farage says join the people’s army as Clegg brands him a dangerous fantasist – After the live TV debates, are we any clearer whether the British public would want to be in or out of the European Union?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

 

Yesterday, as the main party leaders traded insults of ‘dunce’ and ‘muppet’ at Prime Minister’s Questions, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage, Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) took part in their second live BBC debate about whether Britain should stay in (Clegg’s view) or leave (Farage’s view) the European Union (EU).

At times they slung some mud hoping it would stick. Clegg tried repeatedly to portray Farage as the ‘admiring’ best mate of Vladimir Putin, and Farage that Clegg was ‘lying’ to the British public about the amount of legislation coming from the EU.  But at the end of a lively debate the highest poll showed a 69% win for Nigel Farage. So why was this and does it mean that people want out of the EU?


‘ We need to take back control of our country and embrace the global world’  - Nigel Farage


Farage, accused of sweating too much in the last debate, put in a strong performance, although he may have continued to polarize opinion with his ‘down the pub’ language about the ‘white underclass’. There was a clear effort to look less anti-European overall and stick to the damaging effects of an outdated political union. He repeated arguments that Britain could not be self-governing and a member of the EU, did not want a European foreign policy or open-door immigration that disadvantaged British people.

‘ We are richer, stronger and safer working together’ - Nick Clegg


Clegg, getting off the blocks better and much more energized, put forward his central arguments well. He stated that a modern Britain should work with others and lead, not walk away and try to turn the clock back. He felt Britain had more negotiating ‘clout’, trade and jobs by being within the EU and that a referendum would jeopardize economic recovery. 

At times it felt a little repetitive and the phrase ‘ he’s not answering the question’ popped into your head a few times particularly on the cultural and social impact of immigration where he was challenged. 

Are the polls affected by personality politics?


This is the great unknown. How many people are blinded by their dislike of the personalities regardless of the argument? If you looked back at the footage both men barely looked at each other but stopped short of not shaking hands, which is a huge no-no in British politics. 

It’s clear, both men are ‘marmite’ figures – you either love them or loathe them. The belief that Clegg sold-out (particularly on tuition fees) and now props up the Conservative Party may cloud judgment before the first question has been fired, just as much as the view that UKIP as a party is inherently racist. 

But maybe this is doing the electorate a dis-service.  People’s view of the EU, and how they rated the debate, is also likely to be what they see where they live, the businesses they run, and the job that they do or indeed feel they cannot get.

Summary


The issue of Britain’s membership of the EU is not going away. There is no doubt that this will give real momentum to Nigel Farage and the UKIP cause ahead of the European elections next month. They continue to take ground from traditional ‘euro-sceptic’ conservative party voters. It has also in the absence of Labour taking part, given the Liberal Democrats the label of the pro-European party to vote for. 

The real winner is the British public who in their millions watched, listened or read about the debates. The subject, including the often politically toxic impact of immigration, was taken on in a sensible, formal way. The real losers are perhaps those party leaders who decided they didn’t want to take a stage with the third and fourth largest political parties in Britain and didn’t show up. 

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