Clegg v Farage

Having listened to one of the Clegg versus Farage debates, and on reading the poll analysis of who was seen as having won, a few thoughts struck me. As I am wont, I commit these thoughts as musings on this blog.

I tried to view the debate as impartially as I am capable of. I am aware of my bias, and I am certain that some will consider me incapable of being anything like dispassionate. Nonetheless, I try.

I find the UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage, very charismatic. I think he is top amongst all UK politicians in this aspect – and I would place Boris Johnson, Conservative London mayor, at number two. If you believe, as I believe, that we are seeing an increasingly presidential style of politics in the UK then this clearly matters.

UKIP’s problem is that their talent pool is very shallow; Farage is a class act, but after that the cliff edge appears.

Nick Clegg has charm, and if you can ignore his role in Government then he still sounds like a conviction politician. Unfortunately, no-one can ignore his role as Cameron’s prop, and he will struggle to be believed by anyone but the most loyal Lib Dem. However, in a debate on Europe he is on sure ground – whatever the voting public think of the Lib Dem’s gymnastic approach to policy, they have at least been consistent as regards to the EU.

If you actually listen to what the two leaders were saying two trends are discernible. Farage enjoys hyperbole; I cannot imagine that many will buy the argument that 400 million plus can, and could, descend on these shores. When ten East European nations joined we did have a large influx – but this still numbered under a million. Farage’s argument here may sound plausible down the pub after several beers; it sounds ridiculous if at all dissected. There is also the claim about how much of the UK’s statute book now comes from Brussels. It may be a good sound bite, but again it does not sound credible if truly thought about. I doubt many voters could name a single law that comes from our membership of the EU.

Clegg, like many in the pro-EU camp, sounded apologetic at times for being so disposed. His argument against a referendum failed to challenge the concept of government by referenda, and he avoided the near-hysterical antipathy displayed by the printed media (mostly) that would skew any national debate. Whilst the call for a debate on our future is laudable, I am unconvinced that anything resembling an impartial examination is possible. I cannot recall any mention of the peace dividend, or a robust proposal on economic grounds. He also failed to mention the two-way street that sees as many Brits working and living in Europe as there are Europeans here.

I have heard some politicos dismiss the whole event as a second division affair, a contest between two parties who matter far less than the Conservatives and Labour. I disagree. One is in Government; the other will influence (perhaps negatively) the largest party in Government. UKIP and the Lib Dems will get something like a third of the vote between them in May, and probably around a quarter of the vote in 2015. These numbers are significant, and whilst they may not return large numbers of MPs they will influence results in many places. It is no exaggeration to say that UKIP and Lib Dem voters could decide who runs the country after the next General Election.

Winning the debate is not the same as winning the argument. I agree with the majority in that Nigel Farage won the debate. He was a long way from winning the argument, though.

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