Nick Clegg has sketched out a campaign strategy aiming to corner Britain’s pro-European voters. But a face-off with eurosceptic Nigel Farage on Wednesday (26 March) demonstrated the limits of his vision.
Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg and populist party chief Nigel Farage (UK Independence Party) went head to head in a debate organised by the London-based radio station Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC).
In the debate, Farage stressed his message that the EU equals “a total open door, unconditionally” for immigrant workers. The rightwing politician also scorned Britain’s net contributor status, by arguing that EU membership “cost £55m a day” and that there are “thousands of new laws over which our own parliament, and you, the electorate, can make no difference”.
Farage, one of the most infamous members of the European Parliament, is known for his radical eurosceptic position, arguing that the UK should leave the European Union.
Nick Clegg’s attempts to counter what he argued was misinformation by his opponent proved unsuccessful. A poll conducted by the pollster YouGov showed 57% of some 1,000 respondents thought Farage had won the debate, versus 36% saying Nick Clegg had won, with 7% arguing they didn’t know.
The Tories, who are in a coalition government with the Lib Dems, weren’t represented in the debate. Neither was the Labour party. Next week, Farage and Clegg will face each other once more, to quarrel over the EU issue: The BBC will host the debate, on the evening of Wednesday 2 April. It will be moderated by veteran presenter David Dimbleby.
Liberal Democrats hope to win the pro-EU vote
Clegg is leading a pro-European Lib Dems campaign in next May’s EU elections. The party – the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government – is the only significant political force defending the UK’s current membership in the European Union.
In yesterday’s debate, the liberal leader stressed that the EU “at the end of the day is about jobs, jobs, jobs”. “To pull up our drawbridge, we would destroy jobs for everybody in this country, and that is something I am not prepared to see happen,” he said.
In the wake of the debate, Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron urged Clegg to bump up the pro-European rhetoric, the Huffington Post UK reported. “We should be a lot bolder about saying this is about Britain’s future, about real pragmatics,” Farron said. “This is about what is in Britain’s interest. It’s all at stake here. May 22 [European elections] is crucial. The trajectory can either to be towards exit or we change our trajectory.”
The Lib Dems also hosted an electoral congress of the European liberal party ALDE in November, at which their candidate for the EU Commission presidency, Guy Verhofstadt, and other eurofederalists took the stage.
EURACTIV reported earlier on the Labour party’s hesitance to link their campaign to the pan-European campaign of the Party of European Socialists (PES). The Conservatives of prime minister David Cameron, meanwhile, have denounced the idea of putting top candidates at the head of such pan-EU campaigns.
Latest polls have Labour winning the elections with 28 seats, followed by UKIP (at 20 seats), the Conservative party of PM David Cameron (16 seats) and the Lib Dems (2 seats).
The British voters head to the polls on 22 May, when they will choose 73 European Parliament members in total. Brits will also vote in municipal elections on the same day.
Next May’s European elections are held on 22-25 May across 28 EU member states. British voters will head to the polls on 22 May to vote in the European Parliament elections as well as local elections. The campaigns and debates between British parties are largely dominated by the question on the merits of UK membership in the EU and whether a referendum, as proposed by governmental party the Conservatives, should be put to voters to decide this issue.
These EU elections are the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which grants the European Parliament the power to vote on the president of the EU executive, the European Commission. While pan-European parties have nominated top candidates for the job, this idea has generally been debunked in the UK - an EU member state with one of the most critical stances on European integration.
- 2 April: Debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg on the BBC
- 22 May: British citizens vote in European and municipal elections across the UK
- 22-25 May: European Parliament elections in all 28 EU member states
- The Guardian: Clegg v Farage: snap poll suggests firm Ukip win in head-to-head over Europe
- The Telegraph: Nigel Farage v Nick Clegg: seven facts we learnt in EU debate
- Huffington Post UK: Tim Farron urges Nick Clegg to be 'bolder' in second Nigel Farage debate
- European Parliament elections 2014 website: Map of member states' voting rules & dates