Nick v Nigel: There was only going to be one winner

I recently wrote a piece for my personal blog describing how under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the Liberal Democrats have become a spent force in British politics. Today’s much anticipated showdown between Clegg and UKIP leader Nigel Farage proved that to be the case, and despite his best attempts, the Deputy Prime Minister was well and truly defeated by a man barred from participating in the general election debates.

That isn’t to say that Clegg didn’t try his very hardest to dominate; he resurrected the old tricks successfully employed during the 2010 election campaign, staring straight down the camera and addressing members of the audience by their first names. But unfortunately for the Lib Dem leader, the public now know better, and like a jilted ex-girlfriend the British people will not give a second chance to the man who seduced them and made them feel good about themselves before letting them down big style. Now, it is Nigel Farage and UKIP who are winning the argument, and tonight’s performance was proof of that.

Public debate is what Nigel Farage does best, mixing folksy charm with a sharp sense of humour and a surprisingly comprehensive grasp of the key facts and figures. Therefore, a debate about his favourite political issue, Britain’s membership of the EU, was a godsend for the UKIP boss. For the first time in his career, he was given the opportunity to lay out his case in the public arena and oppose a man who is the personification of everything UKIP oppose. After all, Nick Clegg’s political career began in the European Parliament, and now as Lib Dem leader he is on a mission to establish himself and his party as the most prominent pro-European voice in British politics.

Early polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly saw Farage as the winner of tonight’s debate, and this is something which should frighten Mr Clegg. Not only is it further proof of the implosion of Lib Dem support, but it could also be a sign that the British people are becoming more Eurosceptic. The Guardian has attempted to suggest that whilst Farage won this battle, the war is still being won by the Europhiles, but this argument simply does not stack up. If pro-EU politicians such as Nick Clegg are unable to lay out their arguments in a convincing manner during a prominent public debate, then the logical conclusion is that people will soon become disenchanted with Europe, its institutions and its supporters. Undoubtedly, Farage’s personality and UKIP’s stance on social issues have helped to boost levels of support for the right wing party, but their stance on the EU remains their most attractive selling point (indeed, Farage recently indicated that he was prepared to relax UKIP’s hostility to gay marriage).

Tonight’s debate was more than just a battle between two politicians vying for votes. It was a clash between two very different visions for Britain’s future, and it represented the polarisation of British politics over the issue of Europe. By choosing not to take part, it was the two main parties which ended up looking out of touch and obsolete; for all Nick Clegg’s faults, at least he had the guts to defend denying the British people a say over their own sovereignty in the face of the nation’s most popular Eurosceptic. However, only one of these visions can triumph, and Nigel Farage tonight showed that he is on the right side of the argument – let’s hope that the British people don’t let themselves get duped once again by Clegg and his cronies.

George Reeves

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