Last night saw round two of the EU debate between Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Ukip’s Nigel Farage.
This time Clegg gave a more impassioned performance. He continually attacked Farage and Ukip for peddling a “dangerous fantasy” and of attempting to “turn the clock back”, warning that they want to take the UK back to the 19th century.
His sparring partner, Farage, continually and successfully plied a populist line. Throughout their exchanges, the UKIP leader juxtaposed the EU as an “elite club of career politicians” that is good for the rich and big business, but is “bad news for ordinary British workers and families”. Playing to the interests of the white working class he also suggested that immigration had left them as an “underclass”.
The winner of this second bout? Farage, and with an even wider margin of victory according to polls. YouGov’s survey found 68% thought the Ukip leader had performed best compared to 27% who were in favour of Clegg. The Guardian/ICM poll also declared Farage the winner, with 69% to Clegg’s 31%.
Social media reported similar findings. LBC’s Twitter worm – which tracked tweets about the debate and determined their sentiment – reported that though Clegg started strong he quickly dropped behind, reaching a low point with his poor joke that “we are the party of in, they are the party of Putin”.
Twitter analysis conducted by Demos also indicated that Farage was the victor. In a race to the bottom their survey suggested he was less unpopular, having collated 10,946 negative tweets about Farage to Clegg’s 13,066. It also showed that – at least amongst twitter users – the debate was more about personality than politics, with 72% of tweets about the former to just 22% of tweets on the political details.
Perhaps the public’s judgement on the outcome of the contest shouldn’t have been a surprise though. After all, in January Ukip topped the Independent on Sunday’s poll as the nation’s favourite party. Farage was viewed second most favourably amongst party leaders – on 22% to David Cameron’s 37%. In contrast Clegg was the least popular, with only 13% of participants viewing him favourably to 52% who were unfavourable. Clegg’s reputation is still reeling from the feeling of public betrayal for his U-turn on tuition fees. As these EU debates demonstrated, the public do not see him as the man who can ‘Stop Nigel’.
David Cameron might have dismissed both Clegg and Farage as “quite extreme” over Europe, but Clegg’s loss is also a blow for him and not just the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, Farage’s ascendance continues apace. These debates have boosted his profile and awarded both publicity and impetus to his party in the run up to the European elections in May. He may not be in the prizefight to be PM, but he’s certainly punching above his weight in the battle for public opinion.
Aurora Horwood is an Account Executive at PLMR working across the company’s planning clients.
You can read her summary of ‘Round 1’ – Nick v Nigel: Is this the dawn of four party politics?