Snap poll gives Ukip victory in Europe debate

Nigel Farage performed well in his debate with pro-EU Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg (right) and Ukip (UK Independence Party) leader Nigel Farage, debate on Britain’s future in the European Union. Photograph:  Ian West/WPA/ Getty Images

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg (right) and Ukip (UK Independence Party) leader Nigel Farage, debate on Britain’s future in the European Union. Photograph: Ian West/WPA/ Getty Images


Nigel Farage went to Dulwich College, a fee-paying secondary public school in south London founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn, a famous actor, entrepreneur and one of the most colourful figures of his day.

Farage has inherited some of Alleyn’s traits. His love of the past is epitomised by a school that gave, in the words of another former pupil, PG Wodehouse, “six years of unbroken bliss”.

On Wednesday, the UK Independence Party leader dropped in for a pint at the Westminster Arms before travelling on for his hour-long debate about the EU with Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg.

He likes his pint, does Farage. It – and the nearly ever-present packet of Rothmans – delivers a message to British voters: that he is not, whether one likes or loathes him, like other politicians.

For now, nobody knows how many people listened to the debate on the London-based LBC radio, though it was carried live online.

But snapshots of public opinion gave it to the Ukip leader.

Curiously, most of the watching press gave it to Clegg.

But the central point is that Farage and Clegg can walk away reasonably content, particularly the latter who has labelled himself as Britain’s most pro-EU leader.

Winners and losers
The real losers from Wednesday night’s debate were the two party leaders who were not there: Conservative prime minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband – particularly the former.

Sometimes, the talk about who won, or lost, can come to be the end-all of political discourse. Clegg benefited from this in 2010 when he was the new kid on the block. Farage is now getting his turn.

The question is whether it will last. Halfway in, it became clear that Farage is not used to debating with quality opposition.

Clegg, whatever his faults, is.

Clegg scored a significant point for the constituency he is courting when he needled Farage into saying that he had “not voted in 15 years” for one piece of legislation advanced by the European Commission.

This, said Clegg, meant Farage has refused to support EU-wide measures that make sense, such as greater protection for EU tourists in other member states.

However, facts do not matter much if a politician is in tune with public sentiment. And British public sentiment is increasingly cantankerous about immigration – it is less obsessed by the EU, which explains why Ukip talks mostly after the former issue.

Clegg made much of the argument that the British public will get a vote – the next time it is proposed – that the UK should pool sovereignty with other EU states/cede powers to Brussels (choose according to taste).

In reality, a significant percentage of people – one, admittedly hard to quantify – who would vote Yes to continued EU membership think it is quite reasonable that the public’s opinion should be asked for the first time since 1975.

The snapshot opinion poll conducted by YouGov leaned towards producing good figures for Farage since it was “skewed towards older people, more middle-class people, broadsheet readers and also people who identified with Ukip”, said the company.

Some of these people were targeted by Tory chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne in last week’s budget, where he changed pension rules which compelled pensioners to buy an annuity.

Similarities between the debate over the UK’s EU membership and the debate in Scotland over independence are becoming increasingly pronounced.

In Scotland, voters are beginning to bridle against the London-led narrative that economic doom awaits if Scots break away. The numbers, so far, are not enough to deliver a Yes vote, but the momentum is one way.

On the EU, it is striking that research shows British voters noting warnings from multinational companies that future investment, if not existing jobs, may be jeopardised by a UK exit from the EU.

But just because a majority of them recognise that an exit would hold dangers does not mean they like the messenger, be it Clegg or the Confederation of British Industry.

However, Farage is the one seen by some as the voice of the future.