FORGET the Farage factor. Last night’s televised debate was nothing short of a disaster for Nick Clegg.
The Lib Dem leader was the darling of the televised leaders’ debates at the 2010 general election but bombed on BBC against the Ukip pub-crawler.
The headline news from the overnight ICM poll for The Guardian is that 69 per cent of viewers thought Farage won the debate versus only 31 per cent for Clegg. (A YouGov poll for The Sun virtually matched that with 68 to 27.)
But more significant is that so many Lib Dem supporters gave Clegg the thumbs-down: 59 per cent who voted Lib Dem at the last election thought Farage was more convincing than their one-time blue–eyed boy.
Only 41 per cent of Lib Dem voters thought Clegg had come out on top and that was in a debate primarily on EU membership – in or out? – which Clegg is making his USP for the May 2015 general election.
The result is worrying for the Lib Dems in many ways. It shows even Lib Dem voters have fallen out of love with their leader because of the many compromises he’s been forced to accept as a price for sharing power with the Tories.
It suggests the Lib Dems will get slaughtered if they campaign on being the only party to fight on an “in” ticket on the EU, whatever the cost to British taxpayers.
Worse still for Clegg it suggests that his party will be humiliated at the European Parliament elections next month.
Last night’s result will worry the Tories, too. Farage is proving himself a formidable debater with a genuine appeal. The Sun poll showed his popularity rose by 12 per cent as a result of the second debate: beforehand, 38 per cent of respondents viewed the Ukip leader positively; by the end, that had risen to 50 per cent.
As The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour writes today: “Cameron… will be terrified that the two hour-long TV debates have given Ukip not just massive publicity, but political momentum for the European elections on 22 May.”
As The Mole argued after his first-round victory, Farage is making a strong case for being allowed to join any party leader debates in a year’s time.
Wintour wonders whether Farage’s success will convince Cameron “that TV debates in a general election would be highly unpredictable and combustible, and therefore worth avoiding.” ·