Nick v Nigel, Round 2: My second thoughts

clegg farage lbcLast week, there was no doubt in my mind that Nick Clegg won the debate – he quite simply out-classed Nigel Farage, and YouGov’s poll showed Labour and Lib Dem voters agreed (though not Tory and Ukip voters).

This week, it was much more evenly matched. The early part belonged to Nick. With the focus on the Ukip leader’s praise for Vladimir Putin as a “brilliant operator”, Nigel Farage was always going to be on the back-foot. He was, and Nick was able successfully to claim the calm (but yes, also passionate) high ground, portraying him as something of a fantasist, “The party of Putin”. But however deluded Nigel Farage’s views on Russian tyrants are, they are unlikely to be the deciding issue in the elections.

Probably Nick Clegg’s most successful line was about half-way through the debate: “I like modern Britain, Nigel Farage doesn’t.” Crisp, clear, direct – and pretty accurate, too. This is the dividing line for much of the Europe debate: whether you want Britain to be open and engaged, or closed and isolationist.

In the second half, though, Nigel Farage moved up a gear. Looking far calmer (and less sweaty) than last week, he unashamedly pitched himself as the populist politician who tells the voters exactly what they want to hear – the people you can blame for whatever’s wrong in your life are foreigners, Westminster and big business. It’s a pitch that’s worked for plenty of politicians down the years and I suspect it will have worked for Nigel Farage tonight.

Nick Clegg ended up looking too much like he was defending the status quo, summed up by his response to the question “What do you think the EU will look like in 10 years’ time” – “I think it will look pretty similar”. If ever there was a question sitting up to hit by pro-European reformer (which is what Nick Clegg is) that was it.

Add that to the tired jokes (sample “Nigel Farage probably wants WG Grace to open the batting”) and Nick’s peculiar obsession with explaining the distinction between primary and secondary legislation to justify his (quite correct) point that only 7% of laws are made by the EU, and it felt like he was grateful for it all to be over. To be fair, his closing pitch was well-crafted and earned warm audience applause.

Neither of the two debates will have changed many minds. That wasn’t really ever their point. For Nick Clegg it was a case of wanting (and needing) to lead the pro-European campaign to galvanise the Lib Dem campaign. For Nigel Farage it was a case of grabbing the publicity. Both have emerged winners on their own terms – but tonight Nigel was probably a little bit more of a winner than Nick.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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41 Comments

  • The problem is that many of the criticisms of the EU made by Nigel Farage are difficult to reply to, however skilled the debater.

    The EU needs to stop its current direction of travel and needs drastic reform in order to focus on its core role, of a trading community.

    Nick Clegg came across as a defender of the status quo as you say. The problem is that, in many ways, the status quo is indefensible.

  • Farage isn’t going to convince me, but in debating terms he was the clear winner.

    Clegg said “Nigel Farage” far too often and got too repetitive with the “turn the clock back”, “isolation” etc lines. He completely ignored the accusation that he was hellbent on attacking Syria, so people will tend to accept that.

    If Dimbleby really was counting the minutes, that’s interesting, because Farage seemed to dominate. Then on the final word Farage seemed to get less applause than on earlier exchanges and Clegg rather more (they almost stopped clapping Clegg after the first couple of questions).

  • On Twitter

    sophie Ridge: Audience member tells me she found it hard tonight as she is “pro Europe but anti Clegg”

  • Nick Clegg debates like a young student, his style and behaviour are far to immature for the leader of a political party. Farage won hands down. The winners tonight were UKIP and those LibDems who want a change of leadership.

  • Of course, the fact that Farage is seen as having beaten Clegg so convincingly will have major implications for whatever debates are going to be held in next year’s general election campaign.

  • We were willing Nick on here, but thought he had a poor night overall. Strong on Putin and energy, but weak on European refendum, nature of EU laws and immigration. Particularly groaning at the fifth mention of going back to the 19th century when Nigel was clearly advocating a Swiss-style model.

    Looks like the polls are calling it about 68-31 for UKIP, feels about right to us. Still think they are both winners for taking centre stage and marginalising Lab and Con.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Apr '14 - 8:47pm

    First of all: I much prefer Nick Clegg as a politician, even more so after tonight’s performance. Secondly: the Lib Dems need to move to adopt a similar position to Cameron on the EU.

    We can tone down our praise of the EU, whilst still attacking some populist nonsense about the effects of the EU. As Paddy Ashdown said: “What would Greece do if it left the Euro? Print money!?”.

  • paul barker 2nd Apr '14 - 8:58pm

    Like any conman, Farage tells most people what they want to hear, theres no way a responsible democrat can compete with that. Of course if Farage tried the same trick in a General Election it would go down much more badly. Few voters, tragically take either European or Local Elections as seriously as Westminster. Most wont vote & many of those who do will treat this May as a sort of game.
    Probably UKIP will go up inthe first post-debate Polls, simply because of the exposure but I doubt its won them any new voters.

  • “Like any conman, Farage tells most people what they want to hear, theres no way a responsible democrat can compete with that.”

    Supposing that to be true (and all I’m really convinced of so far is that Nick Clegg can’t compete with it), then challenging Farage to a debate probably wasn’t the smartest move on Clegg’s part, was it?

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Apr '14 - 9:02pm

    The primary/secondary legislation thing was a potential winner for NC but he spoilt it by using words like “transposing” and “primary legislation”. Put in plain English the point is that only 7% of the main laws that Parliament makes are based on European law. And even then there is a lot of scope for tweaking them. Nick could have hammered that hard in response to Farage’s claim that he was telling lies.

    He also muffed the Norway issue which is very simple really. Norway pays in as if it was member, and has adopted about 80% of EU legislation. But no say.

    It didn’t look as though Nick had practised the “in 10 years” question – rather an obvious one really.

    This is the first time I have seen Farage at any length. What a dangerous and unpleasant right wing demagogue. The other parties will all have to find some effective ways of discrediting him.

    Tony Greaves

  • Charles Knight 2nd Apr '14 - 9:13pm

    Last time I thought Clegg was the winner but I’m afraid this week that regardless of the fact that he talks nonsense, Farage ran rings around him and the polls seem to agree with that. I

  • My thought – though I wouldn’t have believed it possible – is that Clegg is even more of a liability than I suspected previously. I still don’t think it’s feasible to remove him as leader at this stage, but the party needs to get its act together and ensure that in the run-up to the election he is given the absolute minimum of prominence consistent with remaining leader, and that other senior figures who are capable of being taken seriously are projected as part of a collective leadership.

  • Graham Evans 2nd Apr '14 - 9:23pm

    I tend to agree with Paul Baker’s suggestion that NIgel Farage tends to tell people what they want to hear, and it is difficult to sing a song which only appeals to a minority. In fact it is even worse, in that telling people facts they do not want to hear can even strengthen their resolve to stick with their existing beliefs. What is more difficult to determine if whether a different messenger than Nick Clegg could have achieved a better result – perhaps Blair at the height of his popularity. Ironically perhaps the one person who might inspire is Alex Salmond, who I have no doubt will now ram home to the Scottish people that staying part of the United Kingdom could lead to Scotland’s exit from the EU, whereas leaving the United Kingdom offers the prospect of Scotland remaining a member of the EU.

  • You can’t argue with a 68% desire for a referendum.

  • I admit to being shocked at the opinion poll figures, however they do make it even more certain that Farage will never share a platform with Cameron or Miliband.

    I agree that Nick was wrong footed by the in ten years time question. It is a pity that he did not accentuate how the newer Member States’ economies will have developed and the benefits of coordinated action on the environment.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Apr '14 - 9:51pm

    I broadly agree with Stephen.

    I would never say that anyone who put forward such xenophobic, borderline racist il-informed nonsense as Nigel Farage did tonight could be the winner. What he said was so offensive to every liberal cell in my body.

    Nick was always going to win it for me. I was always consciously biased in his favour. Why did he not win over more of the people voting in the poll?

    Last week, when he was brilliant, clear, passionate with the right balance of detail and persuasive talk, he only got 36%. That was a totally bizarre result, but it was probably in the ball park of where we were aiming. I suspect that Nick was over-prepared for this. He was told to be more passionate and put less detail in, to look less like the polished figure he was last week, to be a bit more rough and ready.

    Well, I don’t like hand to hand combat in political debate or anywhere else. I think his more relaxed style last week worked and should not have been interfered with. He wasn’t comfortable with the way he was framing the message and some of the jokes just didn’t work. He didn’t get the Party of In/Putin line right which suggests it was a bit unnatural for him. The answer to that is to just let Nick be Nick in true West Wing style. There was no need to change him.

    He over baked the laws question by some margin. Who gives a fig about primary legislation and the like?

    It would have been good if he could have quoted the report, highlighted by Giles Goodall earlier today, that showed that Lib Dem MEPs are much more effective than any of the others.

    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the need to speak out against hate crime, because if you didn’t, you allowed the bile spouted by people to become established fact. This country has been running scared of a positive debate on Europe for pretty much quarter of a century, since the days of the Major government. In that time, the sort of myths that Farage peddles have gained a bit of traction. They need dislodging. Nick has started to do that. Nobody else has bothered their backside to attempt it. But you aren’t going to turn that oil tanker around overnight.

    Nick wasn’t as good tonight as he was last week, but I’d take Clegg at his worst over Farage at his best any day of the week.

  • “I would never say that anyone who put forward such xenophobic, borderline racist il-informed nonsense as Nigel Farage did tonight could be the winner. What he said was so offensive to every liberal cell in my body.”
    Caron, could you please be more specific and stop being so understated and vague?

  • Nigel Farage lost a number of opportunities to make informed statements about the EU. Nick Clegg seemed to avoid answering questions and repeated the same phrases regardless of the question.

    Farage performed more confidently this time, Clegg overdid the emotional tactics and came over as a raving loony who had lost the plot. His performance in the previous debate was much more solid and impressive.

    I was surprised that Clegg returned to the 7% primary statutes claim. It is perfectly true but just the tip of the iceberg.

    The audience missed the opportunity to question Clegg about remaining in the EU while it heads relentlessly towards becoming a country, which, after all is its raison d’etre.

  • The point is that Clegg was on his home turf, and he lost big time. There are a great many other Liberals, past and present, who would have made mincement of Farage’s little Englander nonsense.

  • Personally, I think Nick Clegg simply can’t escape his lack of popularity.

  • TG is spot on as always.
    Many will vote for them in the Euros as a lot of folks I know think the Euro elections don’t really matter – so vote thinking whoever wins even if is UKIP – no damage is done – but gives them a chance to kick those damn Europeans. Come the GE in 2015 I think & hope their madness has subsided – just as it has before come the EG …….89 the Greens …. Ukip 2009 & 2014(?)

  • To be honest I can’t understand how anyone can be surprised by the polls, highly unpopular man defending the EU and ‘scary’ immigration? Please, I was almost dead right about the results before the debate was even on, yes Clegg could have been better but there was no way he could have ‘won’.

    Still I think it was worth it, like Stephen wrote that the debate ‘boosts ukip at tory expence’ if that means a stronger UKIP taking more votes from the Conservatives than any other party, I’ll take it.

  • Anyone else notice that Nick’s line about people moving to Orpington was lifted straight from one of the threads on here after last week’s debate.

  • This week I thought Nick was much better than last week. I felt more like cheering this week. However I note from the comments that most people disagree. He could have quoted liberal principles for being in favour of membership of the EU – that the EU is better placed to control the power of business and protect the environment and citizens. However I am not convinced that Nick believes in this true form of liberalism and so couldn’t make out the liberal case for membership of the EU.

    Maybe Nick’s advisers read comments on Liberal Democrat Voice because Nick did make the linkage between membership of the EU and keeping Scotland in the Union as I suggested last week. Also he was better on immigration than last week.

    As Stephen pointed out Nick didn’t make out much of the case for reforming Europe, he only touched on it – you have to be in it to change it. The discussion on Norway and Switzerland having to pay towards the EU and abide by its regulations without having a say should have been made clearer as Tony Greaves has pointed out.

    On the positive side Nick didn’t ask Nigel questions, which I think is a weak tactic, he did mostly try to counter Nigel’s points. I don’t like the way Nick often wants to butt in! So maybe for me unlike Caron Lindsay, I prefer tonight’s Nick and don’t want to “just let Nick be Nick”.

  • Did Nige win or did Nick lose? I have to say my money is on the latter. Sure he scored some points but given the choice between making the argument for in and attacking Farage he chose the latter, often at the expense of answering the audience question. Farage gave him an open goal with his point linking immigration to the emergence of a white underclass (a thoroughly offensive term) and he didn’t even see it. A second look on you-tube will reveal other instances where he made the wrong call, going for the man rather than the ball. Farage only went after Clegg insofar as he represented the political establishment, all the while playing the defender of the angry little man shaking his fist at said establishment. This is what he’s good at. Attack him and you’re attacking the angry little man and his vote. He even had the temerity at times to sound like a trade unionist taking on the evil capitalists …..not bad for a commodities trader.

    Farage’s arguments are not difficult to reply to provided you stick to the arguments. Whoever decided on tonight’s strategy, be it Nick or his team, needs to take a long hard look at the repeat. Tonight’s performance betrayed Nick, the Party and the European cause because it focused on attacking Farage the man rather than winning the argument. Perhaps he’s been spending too much time at PMQs but Nick came across as petulant, immature and repetitive. If I were a pro-European business-man looking to fund a political campaign I’m not sure where I’d be looking right now.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Apr '14 - 11:17pm

    It is a relief to see that the Blunkett- style Clegg has disappeared (the distasteful comments he made on LBC about Roma people). Clegg’s first performance was superior because he kept the high-ground. He was courageous but came over as a bit burnt out.

    As for the second performance I agree with Caron and many others that the jokes didn’t work – all the “Elvis found alive”, “Chief Sitting Bull” stuff was wince-making. Perhaps he was influenced by the low calibre “Dunce of Downing Street” and “those Muppets” jibes at Question Time today.

    Still – a brave and good decision to do the debates.

  • I didn’t see the full debate tonight, only the excerpts on the news etc. But it seems to me that this may well have been a repeat performance of the 2010 debates, where Nick scored relatively heavily first time round, but couldn’t muster the debating power to rebut the come-back arguments second time around. I had thought NC would have the strength of points, and the ability to defeat Farage straight – I have always said he (Nick) is not a very good debater, I am afraid this shows my view to be even more correct (if there can be such a thing!) than I had thought.

  • “Both have emerged winners on their own terms …”

    Nonsense. According to ICM, after today’s debate, 7% were more likely to vote Lib Dem in the Euro elections, and 43% were less likely.

    Clegg initiated these debates to try to boost the Lib Dem vote in the Euro elections. On his own terms he has failed miserably. He has made things worse, not better.

  • I still don’t understand why Nick didn’t make the positive case for Europe. Far too negative – and childish language. Please no more Billy No-Friends.

  • Clegg was on a hiding to nothing tonight because whatever he said most people stopped believing him a long time ago. I’m pro the EU, always have been always will be and I love living in a multi-cultural society. However, if it was a choice between voting for a pro EU party led by Clegg or UKIP I’d go on holiday and avoid voting.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Apr '14 - 9:47am

    I missed almost all of the debate as I was putting the kids to bed. However, the clips I have seen / heard since, feel to me like they amplify what I felt after the last debate about how the LD spin machine was latching onto the Ukraine comments; it seems that the more liberals increase their ‘moral-high-ground’ outrage and scorn when faced with the bigotry and bully-boy rhetoric of elements of the Right, the more elements of the electorate identify with the outsider, ‘non-PC’ right-wingers, and see the liberals as shrill nannyish school teachers who repress the cheeky schoolchildren who just want to live life their own way and speak their mind.

    This is of course, almost always a hoax and a fallacy. But faced with a situationn where a significant minority of the electorate do vote on a presumption that it was better in the old days, telling them outright they are fantasists will not win you votes.

    Until the LibDems can reconnect and remobilise the younger, disengaged part of the electorate, lecturing the older, more conservative but more active voters that they need to move with the times is only going to produce limited returns.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '14 - 9:59am

    Stephen Tall

    Probably Nick Clegg’s most successful line was about half-way through the debate: “I like modern Britain, Nigel Farage doesn’t.” Crisp, clear, direct – and pretty accurate, too. This is the dividing line for much of the Europe debate: whether you want Britain to be open and engaged, or closed and isolationist.

    No, no, NO, NOOO, NOOOOOOO!!!

    Following the first debate, I pointed out what Clegg was getting wrong and what he should do instead here. Clegg is doing the exact opposite here, and he is losing for just the reason I said before he was losing. A good rule in politics is don’t attack your opponents in a way that bolsters their propaganda. By using this line to attack Farage, Clegg is building up Farage, instead he should be undermining him by showing up how the sort of policies he wants will NOT turn the clock back, instead they will just exacerbate the destruction of things people value, they will increase the anxiety that leads people into a small-c conservative way of thinking.

    Farage is a City money-man, and he is financed by City money-men. They want more of the extreme free market economics that has been the main factor destroying what is traditional in Britain and leading to me anxiety. If you look carefully at the leadership of UKIP, their main complaint about the EU is about the barriers its puts on the money men colonising our country and bleeding it dry – Farage and is financial backers don’t like the EU because they don’t like the way its international co-operation stands up against domination by global big business.

    WE, the Liberals, used to be the party of the little people standing up against the big powers, the big powers of the money-men just as much as the big powers of the state. Farage uses words which imply he is that sort, but he has no policies which would amongst to that at all. None whatsoever, they are just words he uses to attract the gullible. Yet he has been allowed to get away with this and to build up his image as that sort of person by the incompetent opposition he faced in that debate.

    Liberal Democrats, your party and my party is being led to disaster by the people at the top of it. They are hopeless, they don’t know how ordinary people think, they can’t communicate with ordinary people, they miss all the best lines, they are stuck in their own elitist little world, and they want to dominate our party and run it in a rigid top-down way so they pull us all down.

  • Well that was a miserable experience! Have to say Farage won by a mile. Nick was pretty poor. He was uncharacteristically stuttery and sounded as if all he could do was regurgitate sound bites.

    Where Nick was successful in 2010 was when he connected emotionally with the audience. His stories about people’s lives and how policies could help them resonated with the public. Which is not a surprise as anyway who has read the brilliant American political book voter file will understand. This time he just repeated the same words over and over again, each time less convincingly.

    Having said this our European Policy is a mess. We should either be pro a referendum because we want the case settled once and for all or opposed to a referendum because we live in a representative democracy and politicians shouldn’t cop out of making decisions. If you don’t like our decisions – don’t vote for us! Either is much better than this mealy mouthed we kinda want a referendum but don’t rubbish. My (non political) friend said about our European policy that it sounded like “typical politician speak, never giving a straight answer.” sadly I think there is some truth to that.

  • “If you don’t like our decisions – don’t vote for us!”

    On the other hand, “If you don’t like our policies – don’t worry, some different ones will be along shortly!”

  • Steve Tucker 17th Apr '14 - 10:41pm

    I think Nick could improve his standing in the eyes of the British public by actually telling the truth about Ukraine, and not copying the lies being spouted by the likes of Cameron and Haig, who, I am sure underestimate the number of people who have seen (and heard) the irrefutable evidence that the overthrow of the Ukrainian government was entirely orchestrated by the US and backed by the EU. Unfortunately for them, while the west played draughts with people’s lives (by hiring snipers to shoot at both demonstrators and police) the Russian government played chess, and put the planned revolution in check. Nick has a great chance here to prove that he is not just another US/EU puppet politician. I hope he takes it,

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