Speaking on LBC radio this morning the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, accepted Nick Clegg’s challenge of a head-to-head debate on membership of the European Union.
Saying he had “no choice” but to pick up the gauntlet he said that “…we need to have a national debate on what I think is the most important issue this country has faced”. He also said that he wanted both the Prime Minister and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, there as well.
But would the debate bring anything new to the table or would it just be a re-run of some tired old phrases and ideas?
Although it could make good radio or television – when they’ve decided on the media vehicle and location – one has to wonder whether each of them has a bag full of ‘killer’ facts to sway the audience with, or if they will again just be preaching to their own already converted. Will it be about membership of the European Union? Or just a competition of personality?
You could probably make a list of the basic points yourself. ‘Three million jobs are at risk if we leave’ Nick Clegg would say to which Nigel Farage would say ‘but that figure’s been discredited and anyway we have a negative balance of trade with the EU’. ‘We need immigrants from the EU’ says Clegg while Farage says we just don’t need so many. ‘We don’t need the uncertainty over business and the economy’ says Clegg, to which Farage answers ‘we don’t want the uncertainty of not knowing how many people are in the country, as well as how many houses, school places and hospital beds we need’. As well as the ‘one trick pony’ and ‘protest vote’ versus the ‘your party’s going down the plughole’ comments. You can see it coming can’t you.
People who care about these things have heard all these arguments before and, if they have not been swayed by them in the past, one wonders if they’ll be convinced (or even moved a millimetre) by them at a debate. And everyone else won’t watch/listen or care – unless it’s on at a prime time on TV and doesn’t clash with the real important business of Coronation Square and reality singing/dancing/diving/skiing – whatever.
At the end of the day there are no new ‘facts’, it will all come down to personality and the ability, on the day, to use wit to put the point across (just like Prime Minister’s Questions, which many people watch but would probably not bother to take in a deep parliamentary debate in the Commons, Lords or committee rooms).
But Nick Clegg does have a big ace that could turn the undecided in his direction – the fear of change – and that is where the real political battle lies.