Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg locked horns for the second and final time last night. The BBC played host, and all the polling seems to suggest that Farage walked away as the winner.
James Delingpole presents five key take-aways from last night’s debate that you may have otherwise missed…
1. The BBC knows it’s in trouble and is desperate to prove it still has meaning.
The BBC did a good job last night, wheeling out its political big gun – David Dimbleby – to moderate in his arch, feline, Flashman-esque way, not showing any noticeable left-wing bias and following up with some integrated coverage from Paxo on BBC Newsnight. But gosh wasn’t the BBC eager to tell us how well it was doing? The BBC stands for everything Farage hates and no doubt cordially loathes Farage. Unfortunately, the way the political debate is changing, the BBC can no longer afford to marginalise its nemesis as it once did. After all, one day – sooner rather than later, let’s hope – Lord Farage could be heading the Commission into the future of the Licence Fee.
2. Nick Clegg should never have agreed to this debacle.
He’s Deputy Prime Minister, for heaven’s sake. All right, so it’s a Mickey Mouse title – created by New Labour to make John Prescott feel less chippy – but even so, Clegg had a lot more to lose from this encounter than he did with a cheeky chappy outsider who is not even an MP. And he did lose it, big time. Nick Clegg is now arguably the second most important source of national unity after the Queen: EVERYONE hates him.
3. Farage’s expressed “admiration” for Putin.
This could have been his Achilles heel – and Clegg kept determinedly jabbing at it. In the end, though, it was Clegg who emerged looking ugly, desperate and vindictive, while Farage came out like a plain-talking, free-thinking bloke who is prepared to fight his corner.
Let’s remind ourselves of the remark that got him into trouble, in an interview with GQ, when he was asked which political leader he admired: “As an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin. The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically.”
Conventional wisdom has it that this was indeed a grave error for any politician to make. The political class has attempted to make much mileage out of it – eg this attack from the Conservatives’ Malcolm Rifkind. And the Mail (which has it in for Farage because it sees him standing in the way of a Cameron victory and ushering in a Miliband reign of terror) recently ran this headline: “Four in ten voters think Nigel Farage poses a ‘danger to Britain’ after he heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
But Farage has not only got away with it but actually turned it to his advantage. It’s beginning to look as if our notion of what does and doesn’t constitute good politics is undergoing a paradigm shift and that Farage is on the right side of the argument.
4. The most significant moment in the debate.
For me it wasn’t anything that happened in Farage’s fracas with Clegg (Farage won, definitely, but still it was pretty dull for those of us who’ve heard these arguments a thousand times before) but what happened afterwards, in the studio discussion at Newsnight. The BBC selected as its expert witnesses Lord Finkelstein and John McTernan – both the very embodiment of the Westminster establishment. McTernan is a former New Labour spin doctor; the amiable Danny Finkelstein is a former Social Democrat and arch Cameroon arguably most responsible – thanks to his position at the Times – for promulgating the defeatist view that Conservatives can only win elections in the mushy centre.
At the end of their interview, both were asked whether they thought – if UKIP does as well as expected in the European Elections – that Nigel Farage should be allowed to participate in televised, pre-general-election debates with the other main party leaders.
Both said “No.”
This is the sound of the tired, stale, old political establishment closing ranks – and I like to think it won’t go unnoticed by the many out there who are quite sick of the tired, stale, old political establishment. There’s a growing realisation out there that all these “expert” commentators in the mainstream media who are supposedly charged with holding the political class to account are actually part of the problem, not the solution.
Farage is speaking to an audience beyond these people, as he hinted at the end when he called for a “revolution”. We cannot possibly predict how this will end. But politics may just got a whole lot more exciting.
5. Viva la Revolucion
I don’t want to crow too much, but it was nice to see Farage deploying in his argument a story he must have first read at Breitbart London about Clegg’s hypocrisy: the awkward fact that while lambasting Farage for “admiring” Putin, the Brussels firm of which Clegg used to be a partner now actively lobbies for Putin.
One thing I’ve noticed about the internet: it swings a lot more libertarian right than the mainstream media does – and there seems to be quite an appetite for it. Many commentators below this blog are UKIPers or Tea Partiers. The political class would like to dismiss them – or rather us, I should say – as ‘fruitcakes’. But I wonder how much longer this will be possible.
As I said in my Spectator review this week of Martin Durkin’s recent documentary, I do have my reservations about Farage – as indeed I have my doubts about many aspects of UKIP. But a lot of the tensions in UKIP have to do with the fact that it’s a relatively young party being subjected to almost unbearably hard scrutiny by a hostile media. There are many times more incompetents, shysters and crooks in the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems – and the only reason we don’t hear about them more is that they’re part of a political establishment which is being protected by a compliant media. Providing UKIP and Farage can keep it together, they really could still be the force that transforms politics not just in Britain but in Europe too.
God I hope so. And I hope that at Breitbart London we’ll be helping to lead that revolution. Prepare the tumbrils! Prepare the gibbets! Prepare the spikes on Westminster Bridge!
And viva Farage!