by Stephen Tall on March 27, 2014
My overall view of last night’s Nick v Nigel debate was that Mr Reasonable won it. But then I would think that, wouldn’t I? What did rest of the British public think?
Well, the vast, vast majority of rest of the British public would have had no view either way: they didn’t watch it. But polling firm YouGov did ask those who did watch it – though as Anthony Wells notes, “to get 1000 people for our poll of people who were watching it we had to ask tens of thousands of people”.
The snap verdict of that sample: Nigel Farage was the winner, by 56% to 37%. That finding will, to some extent, shape how the debate is reported – though I suspect the consensus will be that both leaders won on their own terms. Farage from simply being on the platform, Clegg from leading the pro-European case.
However, what’s interesting is looking at the breakdown of those YouGov figures… Clegg won the debate according to a majority of both Labour (51%) and Lib Dem (77%) voters. Farage won the majority of both Tory (69%) and Ukip (93%) voters. Which is, I guess, what you’d expect to happen.
Six months ago, I thought there was a real risk that the Lib Dems wouldn’t just face a wipeout at these European elections, but that we might trail in fifth place behind the Greens. That’s still a risk, but a much more remote one than it was. In that sense, regardless of who is perceived to have won on the night, Clegg’s gamble of laying down the gauntlet to Farage has paid off.
Perhaps the most significant point, though, is this: a debate between the leaders of the UK’s third and fourth parties was regarded (rightly) as a major political event, even though the Conservative and Labour leaders chose to spectate from the sidelines. Some Tory and Labour supporters hoped 2015 would see politics revert to the cosy red/blue duopoly. The reality is multi-party politics is here to stay. Last night showed that once again.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.