Manchester, England – Nigel Farage called for an end to consensus politics on Europe, immigration and the NHS in the historic seven-way 2015 leaders’ debate. The UKIP leader shocked many when he complained that foreign HIV sufferers were able to claim treatment on the NHS because the UK lacks policies on Europe and immigration.
At the half way point Farage was deemed the winner by polling company Comres. Later polls put him in a dead heat with Cameron and Miliband. He began the debate by claiming that the six other leaders all agreed on the major issues and that UKIP wanted to stand up for ordinary people who had been forgotten.
Farage said the only way to make a change on issues like Europe was to vote UKIP. He said: “In 2012 David Cameron was opposed to Britain having an EU referendum… It’s the UKIP surge that has changed his mind.” Although Cameron also claimed that voting UKIP would “ironically” make an in/out referendum less likely as it would put Ed Miliband into Number 10.
In a question about curbing immigration, Farage told the audience that it was impossible to stop people coming to the country as long as we remain in the EU. He told the questioner: “As members of the EU, what can we do to curb immigration, the answer is nothing!”
But Farage was not entirely on his own. Ed Miliband conceded Labour had got it wrong on immigration when the party was in power. And Nick Clegg seemed to harden his line on EU migration saying Nick Clegg: “Freedom to move in Europe should not be freedom to claim… we need to split those off”. Although the Liberal Democrat leader did reaffirm his support for EU membership.
In a departure from his usual “demand side” argument on housing, Farage called for a new government grant scheme to help develop brown field sites. He said: “I don’t always want government to intervene, but in this case government needs to offer grants to decontaminate brown field sites.” Going on to claim this would free up space for 200,000 new homes a year.
At the end of the debate commentators claimed that it had been the night for the smaller insurgent parties as Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP was widely said to have beaten Miliband. Natalie Bennett from the Greens put some recent disasters behind her and called for a return to “progressive politics”. She also accused UKIP of “demonising people” because of its immigration stance. Bennett said “we’ve had a damaging debate on immigration” because of Farage.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood claimed Labour had failed Wales as the party ran most of the country and the valleys “were some of the poorest regions of the EU”.
In the closing statements, Farage said UKIP “simple patriotism” and that it “can outshine all expectations on May 7th”. The debate ended with a call from Cameron to stay the course on rebuilding the economy. He said: “I want us to finish the job we started… What my plan is about is basically one word: security.”