68% Lib Dem members say Clegg right to challenge Farage to debates on Europe (but, sorry Nick, more think he performed better)

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Nigel farage nick clegg in out eu european union debateThe Lib Dems launch our European election campaign officially today – but it was unofficially kicked off in February when Nick Clegg laid down the gauntlet to Nigel Farage, challenging him to a debate on whether the UK should be in or out. We asked Lib Dem members what they thought of the duel – was Nick right to debate Nigel, and who you thought did best. Here’s what you told us…

Two-thirds say Nick right to challenge Nigel

Do you think it was good or a bad decision for Nick Clegg to challenge Nigel Farage to a debate on Britain’s membership of the European Union?

    Good decision = 68%
    Bad decision = 23%
    Neither = 6%
    Don’t know = 2%

It was a risky decision by Nick, that’s for sure, and many of the commentariat will say it didn’t pay off – after all a clear majority in the polls of those who watched said Nigel was the winner, and Lib Dem poll ratings have barely flickered. This survey was conducted a fortnight after both debates took place, so everyone will have seen the coverage. Lib Dem members are in no doubt it was the right decision regardless, with three times as many saying it was a good call. However, the end result is best summed up by a phrase that spontaneously recurred in members’ comments: “Good decision – badly executed.” Here’s a sample of some of your other comments…

  • It was the right thing to do, but it hasn’t paid off. Nothing ventured, nothing lost or gained.
  • Farage is a very populist debater. It is very difficult to defeat him with facts.
  • I am very pleased that Nick decided to campaign strongly on Europe.
  • An awful decision as it gave a platform to a populistic demagogue.
  • Good to open the debate but bad for us. You can’t change 30 years of relentless lies and pessimism about Europe overnight.
  • Just performed badly – massive questions about prep work
  • Even if Nick ‘lost’, it was a courageous decision and encouraged debate
  • The pro-Europe case needs every support available, but Nick showed too much irritation and insufficient gravitas
  • It has energised the party base. The outcome of the debates (and the media narrative/coverage both before and after) are a different matter entirely.
  • Never debate an idiot… They always drag you to their level and then beat you with experience.
  • He was right to “flush Farage out”. I didn’t agree with the polls and neither did 27% other people which wasn’t bad considering the LibDem poll rating is still in single figures.
  • 1-in-3 say Nigel won, 1-in-5 say Nick did – and one-third say it was a draw

    Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed better overall in the Nick v Nigel debates?

      Nick Clegg better = 20%
      Nigel Farage better = 34%
      Both equally well = 18%
      Neither performed well = 16%
      Don’t know = 13%

    It’s less good news for Nick on who performed better in the debates – 1-in-3 Lib Dem members say Nigel Farage came off better, compared with 1-in-5 saying Nick did. You’ll notice we’ve added in two options that neither YouGov or ICM did: whether people thought the debates were a score-draw (both performed well) or a no-score-draw (neither performed well) – 1-in-3 members belonged to one of these two camps, and it would have been interesting to see what the viewing public thought. That seems to me to be only good practice, and it’s a shame professional pollsters follow the money of the media’s lust for forced choice questions which don’t necessarily represent what people actually think. Here’s a sample of your comments…

  • I agreed with Clegg all the way and appreciated his call to reason and facts, but Farage’s rhetoric and anecdotes was always going to win.
  • It depends almost entirely what you want; facts, arguments, debate or tub-thumping rabble-rousing playing on ignorance, prejudice and lies.
  • Farage better debater, Clegg the better answers.
  • He had the evidence on his side, but did not always find the snappy put down. Forty years of media indifference and tabloid lies is hard to overcome in two hours.
  • In the first debate it was Nick and the second Farage
  • Farage did better from a neutral perspective, Clegg did better from a telling the truth perspective.
  • Performed for who? Farage won the debates with the mass audience but Nick placed the Lib Dems as the only party with the guts to stand up for what we believe in – we won it with our own activists and anyone who believes we should stay in the EU. So Nick achieved his aim – and very well too
  • Depends how you define better. Farage was always going to be able outshout Nick. But Nick should have reached the audience at which he was aiming
  • Clegg came across as just another grey, soundbite-spouting, stuffed-shirt establishment politician. Ironic, given that his success in the 2010 debates was precisely because he wasn’t seen as one.
  • Nick neither coherently stated the core case for the roles of the EU that are indispensable to the UK’s welfare, nor did he provide appealing illustrations of those roles, nor of priority areas for EU reform, and he demolished patheically little of Farage’s farrago of anti-EU nonsense.
  • Clegg did better in that his arguments were right and good. Farage did better because he “won”.
  • Farage offered a positive alternative (which I personally loathe) which resonates with voters. Clegg had no vision to offer
  • Objectively, Nick performed better, with actual facts. He didn’t win the public appeal battle though.
  • Farage was a pub bore Nick far too patronising.
  • No question that Nick was better on substance and the superior statesman. Voters looking for those qualities will have been impressed (until they saw the poll, perhaps…)
  • 45% Lib Dem members want more EU integration; 46% happy with status quo or want less integration

    Thinking about Britain’s relationship with Europe, which would you most like to see?

      Britain remaining in the European Union, integrating more closely with our European neighbours = 45%
      Britain remaining in the European Union as it is = 36%
      Britain remaining in the European Union, but with a repatriation of powers that means membership is on the basis of a free trade agreement and no more = 10%
      Britain leaving the European Union completely = 1%
      None of these = 7%
      Don’t know = 0%

    Away from the debates themselves, we asked members their first preference for Britain’s relationship with Europe – the findings are remarkably consistent with what we found over a year ago when we asked the same question: Lib Dem members are strongly pro-European, but split between those who want more integration (45%), those who want the EU to stay as it is (36%), and those who want less integration (11%). Those 7% who answered ‘none of these’ primarily advocated specific reforms to the EU as it is now, including some mix of further integration in some areas and repatriation of powers in others.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
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  • * 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.