UK & World News

  • 26 March 2014, 18:49

Clegg And Farage Gear Up For Europe Debate

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is going head-to-head with UKIP leader Nigel Farage in a televised face-off over Europe.

The debate is taking place because the Liberal Democrat leader challenged MrFarage on his weekly radio phone-in show.

Ahead of the debate, Mr Clegg tweeted: "Hoping that everyone will be able to listen/watch the @LBC debate tonight."

Mr Farage tweeted: "My live debate with Nick Clegg is upon us. Does he realise what is about to hit him?"

Mr Clegg says their two parties have the best defined disagreement in politics.

The Lib Dems are "unequivocally the party In" - committed to Britain's membership of the European Union; UKIP's core policy is getting Britain out of Europe.

Mr Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister, but as the junior partner in the coalition with David Cameron's Conservatives he sometimes struggles to attract the public's attention.

To counter this he has adopted a strategy of trying to be highly accessible, including giving a monthly news conference and taking part each week in a phone-in on the talk radio station LBC.

He threw down the gauntlet on "Call Clegg" and after a pause which surprised many, the normally media-hungry MrFarage picked it up the next day.

There will be two clashes - today on LBC and Sky News from 7pm, and next week on BBC2.

The debates are likely to be the highest-profile events of the political campaign for the European Parliament and UK council elections, which take place on May 22.

Given the divisions in their own parties over both tactics and strategy on the EU, Labour and the Conservatives are happy not to be taking part. But their absence gives UKIP and the Liberal Democrats a chance to raise their profiles.

In the latest YouGov Poll for the General Election, the Conservatives are on 36%, Labour 37%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 11%.

But UKIP is in the lead in most of the polls for the European Election.

Conservative strategists jibe that Clegg has "nothing to lose" by doing the debates. Lib Dems reply that both participants could be on for a "win-win".

Mr Clegg, 47, has the chance to ram home the Lib Dems'pro-EU message - and he may get some credit with voters on the centre and left for confronting the UKIP leader.

Mr Farage's credibility will be enhanced by enjoying equal status with the Deputy Prime Minister.

He will also be able to advertise UKIP ahead of the elections in which it has tended to do best, helped by the proportional representation voting system.

The 2010 leaders' debates were the breakthrough point for the Lib Dem leader, spawning the catchphrases Cleggmania and "I agree with Nick".

But his popularity has plunged since the Lib Dems joined the coalition government and broke their pledge on university tuition fees.

Nigel Farage, 49, has yet to prove himself as a great debater. He also needs to dispel the popular impression that UKIP is made up of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", in David Cameron's words.

The Farage/Clegg Debates are both men's big chance to shift the national conversation away from Miliband and Cameron's obsession with the economy and on to Europe, an agenda where each believes they have a unique selling point.

:: Tune into LBC 97.3 and watch Sky News for live coverage of the debate at 7pm.

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