Has last night’s debate affected Nigel Farage’s chances of being involved in the general election TV debates? Although the broadcasters and political parties have yet to agree any dates or formats, the precedent has been set and the public will be expecting them. With weasel words from No.10 and a bullish attitude from some broadcasters, there’s a long way to go before an agreement is made.
The public already have a clear idea of what they expect. According to the last YouGov polling on the subject, nearly half believe there should be a four-way debate between Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage:
It’ll be interesting to see whether the public have changed their minds following Nick vs. Nigel — which will have two effects on the 2015 debates. Firstly, it makes it difficult not to include Farage in some form. Plenty of viewers agreed with him — 57 per cent to 37 per cent for Nick Clegg. Appearing alongside the Deputy Prime Minister has also given him a new sense of credibility. Sure he’s been on Question Time a lot, but the LBC debate was closer to the 2010 leaders’ debates. It was a step up. Perhaps it will seem a little false to repeat the exercise in 14 months without him.
But now Clegg and Farage have appeared side by side, it’s far easier for David Cameron and Ed Miliband to exclude them from the main leaders debates. On the topic of the EU, they’re arguably on the fringes — Clegg representing the Europhiles and Farage king of the Eurosceptics. Instead of having a debate with the four major parties, it is now possible that the 2015 debates could feature two separate panels: the leaders who may actually be Prime Minister and the others who are simpler minor party leaders.
Although Nick and Nigel will protest at being shunted aside, it’s unlikely the broadcasters would mind. They’d get the real debate that matters — between the candidates for the Prime Minister — while David Cameron would certainly be pleased. He wouldn’t have to face his worst foe.