The first national debate on our membership of the EU in 40 years has finally arrived. I feel like it’s Christmas come early. The country has been deliberately starved of any serious debate about the issues around our continued EU membership, so I welcome these debates like manna from heaven. Hopefully “our Nige” can deliver a few home truths. The chance to land a few blows on the duplicitous, unprincipled Deputy Prime Minister just adds cream to the coffee.

Hosted by LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) you can watch it online from 7pm this evening. It will also been shown live on Sky News, if you fancy watching on your telly with some popcorn.

In the red, white and blue corner the bruiser from the boozer, the smoking assassin.

In the red, white and blue corner the bruiser from the boozer, the smoking assassin. Image by www.plusidol.com

One of many great reasons to tune in will be the knowledge that you will hear first hand idea what is said, and the context in which it is said, something I suspect will be somewhat misrepresented in the evening news and in tomorrow’s papers. Perhaps I’m too cynical. So tune in if you can, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

I expect Clegg to be short on rational argument and long on emotive soundbites (a fiver on either “in the EU, in work” or “UK’s seat at the top table” in the first five minutes). He is fighting for nothing less than the electoral survival of his party, which he hopes to secure by appealing to the minority pro-EU vote. Clegg will try to steer the debate onto purely economic and immigration ground (well, quicksand), hoping to trade blows in a “battle of numbers” that will ultimately leave nobody any the wiser. If Clegg can control the terms of the debate, he will cast UKIP as negative and backwards looking, and Nigel will be on the defensive from the start.

Nigel should try to resist the temptation to fight Clegg on his own ground, and ensure that the positive, pro-democracy, pro-freedom case for EU withdrawal is made as often and as clearly as possible (a fiver on “I don’t agree with Nick” in the first five minutes). I would also hope that, despite what will no doubt be some outrageous claims and accusations from Clegg, that the debate avoids getting too heated. Too much talk of “Brussels”, “Bureaucrats”, “EUSSR” etc will  just switch people off. The facts about EU membership, simply stated, have far more weight than any hyperbole.

Good to see that Nigel Farage is in bullish mood on the eve of the contest. Break a leg.

Who gets to speak first will apparently be decided by the toss of a Euro coin. Read into that what you will.

Edit 14:00: Just five hours to go. An online poll by the Telegraph has Farage as favourite to “win” the debate, with 88% of 1,300 votes v Clegg’s 12%. I’m slightly worried by the glimpse given into Nigel’s approach, it seems he will be attacking Clegg’s background. While obviously fair game, I’m note sure how well that will play with neutrals. I’d prefer to see a relentlessly positive case for life outside the EU. Looking at some of the other quotes in the Telegraph article, Nigel also needs to be careful not to give the impression that he and UKIP are anti-Europe. Mantra before going on should be “Love Europe, hate EU, love Europe, hate EU, love Europe, hate EU”.

Meanwhile Clegg’s team have been downplaying their man’s chances.

A Lib Dem source told reporters:

He’s the Deputy Prime Minister, he has a pretty busy day job – preparation time has been fairly limited.

We are preparing as we would for any major event in the diary, making sure we are across all the facts and figures on Europe as it’s not something he’s been involved in at a granular level every single day.

We are doing it as and when we can.

I would still make Clegg favourite, he tends to do well in these debates (remember Cleggmania?) and will have a compliant media on side.

 

EDIT 14:02: As I was writing that last edit a thought popped into my head. I wonder how much tax payer funded support Clegg has received in preparing for this debate? As a party “leader’s debate”, the answer should of course be zero. Yet low and behold, there are already suggestions that Civil Servants may have helped brief Clegg.

 

EDIT 20:21: A YouGov poll of a thousand people gives Farage a clear win with 57%, Clegg 36% and 7% don’t know.

EDIT 20:31: Here’s what the Twitterverse made of the debate:

clegg_farage_debate_Twitter_March2014

EDIT 20:41: Sky News Twitter poll, who won the debate, Nigel Farage 1,301, Nick Clegg 557

Please make use of the comments section below to share what you think about the debate. 

 

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