Why did Nick Clegg Agree to a Debate with Farage on the EU?

The news that Nick Clegg had accepted Nigel Farage’s challenge to a debate on the UK’s involvement in the EU shocked me a little. Clegg may have done well in the 2010 general election debates, but circumstances were different. Clegg was able to make clear that his party was not one of fantasy, but a serious force in British politics worth voting for. The worry I had was that Clegg agreeing to the debate would have the same effect for Farage.


In fact, I feared the effect could be even greater. Farage is a populist leader, so no matter what points Clegg brings to the table you can bet that Farage will have an answer, and no matter how truthful or untruthful, his party faithful will claim victory. Those who do not agree with the Liberal Democrat’s Europhile stance may be more persuaded by Farage if they agree with him or not.


The risk for Clegg seems even greater when you consider UKIP’s recent record for untruthfulness. They have a long history of misdirection, and a well-documented record of putting populist rhetoric before fact. In UKIP’s leaflets, they suggested 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians might come to the UK when the EU allowed them. Romania is a country with a population of 21.3 million people, so this was clearly not going to happen. It has since transpired that only 24 Romanians actually came to Britain. It is going to be very hard for Clegg to convince any UKIP-leaning voters of the benefits of the EU when Farage may well disregard facts all together.


Despite the good reasons for my surprise, I can see why Nick Clegg has agreed to the debate. This could be a huge opportunity to show the world what is under the surface of the ‘common sense’ UKIP image. Indeed, he would have good reason for this- UKIP seem to have driven the worst excesses of the coalition government, from ‘go home’ vans to excessive Tory rhetoric. It may be unlikely he will gain many votes from a debate on Europe. In fact, his victory could mean a boost for the Conservative Party, but it would be the right thing to do.


It appears this is how the Liberal Democrats see it. We got hold of Tim Farron (President of the Liberal Democrats) to ask him just why Nick Clegg agreed to the debate? Here is what he said:

Nick's doing the debate because there are two parties that have got something to say and people should so choose one of them if you want to leave the European Union, but if you think the future should be about jobs in Britain, vote Liberal Democrat. Don't waste your vote on a party whose view is utterly unclear.


While the idea that people will switch from UKIP to Liberal Democrat seems a little too hopeful, the idea that it should highlight UKIP’s huge failings seems to stand out.


Clegg is taking a lot of risk for little political reward, but the potential reward for the rest of Britain could be immense. Doing the right thing used to be what the Liberal Democrats were about, but the harsh reality of government has tainted that. This could be Clegg’s chance to prove that the Liberal Democrats have not abandoned their principals.