The four reasons why Clegg lost:
1) The up hill battle for pro-Europeans
The pro-‘in’ case has been on the ropes for a while. A toxic mix of a Labour party whose own intervention has been poor and lazy coupled with some genuine concern with current shape of the EU have put pro-Europeans on the ropes. It needed a new figurehead who was respected enough to carry the torch. (ironic drum roll). Enter Nick Clegg
2) No one likes ‘Cleggy no mates’
Since the Liberals’ turncoat act in 2010 that made a mockery of general election manifestos, Nick Clegg has, politically speaking, been radioactive. In the same way that the Better together campaign in Scotland could do without Tories – hated north of the Border – staying off the telly, pro-Europeans should be screaming for the LibDem leader to do the same. The EU has a bad enough press in the country without the country’s most unpopular politician shooting more holes beneath the water line of the pro-European case.
3) UKIP are the new protest vote
With the Liberals now as popular as the ebola virus, voters post-2010 needed a new protest option for by-elections and the like. It’s been obvious who’s been filling that void and who will do this at the European parliament elections and who will likely do this a year from now.
4) Clegg started delivering as many euro-porkies as Farage
So Nick Clegg has a difficult hand. No one likes him, the EU is not too popular either and voters are increasingly enamoured with Nigel Farage and UKIP. Even when Farage resorts, as he does, to talking euro-trash it unfortunately doesn’t matter to a lot of voters who agree with him anyway. He can get away with it. If a pro-European of any sort is to indulge in outlandish conjecture and Euro-fibs of their own, they will look – perhaps unfairly – worse. Clegg did this a number of times last night. The fact that Farage was correct in accusing Clegg of “willfully lying” when the latter claimed “only 7% of our laws come form the EU” was a painful moment for anyone who loathes Farage. This claim of Clegg’s was an absurd falsehood. Another Clegg claim that the UK, or any, Parliament is in position to veto trade deals reached by the EU was similarly – factually, legally – false. Of course Farage delivered a few of his own, including the ludicrous claim that EU free movement had created a “white underclass” in this country. A ‘rivers of blood’ moment if ever there was one. But he, sadly, is more likely to get away with it. He needed to be taken on with facts, reality; he got shrill, like-for-like euro-porkies instead.
The one mallet pro-European’s have to whack reactionaries like Farage with is that the exaggeration and fabrication makes of eurosceptics makes their argument baseless and one clearly driven by xenophobia. If Pro-European’s start indulging in lies and rubbish too the standard of debate on this subject will get worse (if that were possible) and, more importantly, pro-Europeans will lose.
Clegg clearly fancies himself as a great statesman who can sell anything, but people have made their mind up about him. Let’s hope his poor performances in these debates doesn’t sink the pro-European ship down with his. He certainly hasn’t helped its cause. His is already lost.