Nigel Farage has received an early birthday present by winning the second EU debate against Nick Clegg, according to two snap polls. The Ukip leader, who turns 50 on Thursday, was handed victory after a tense televised meeting on Wednesday evening in which the pair clashed as much over personality as they did policy.
A YouGov survey suggested 68% thought the Ukip leader had performed best in their second debate, compared to 27% who favoured the Deputy Prime Minister. A Guardian/ICM poll similarly gave Farage the advantage by 69% to 31%.
Asked if he was disappointed by the snap poll results, Lib Dem President Tim Farron told HuffPost UK: "Not at all. I thought he [Clegg] won it. it's like Liverpool going to Old Trafford, winning 3-0, but not winning the popularity contest afterwards. We won the debate, however we have someway to go before the majority of British people agree that it's in Britain's interest to stay in [the EU]."
The verdict followed an hour of increasingly bad-tempered exchanges, with Clegg repeatedly accusing his opponent of "fantasy". He also picked up Farage for "indefensible" comments in which he suggested he admired Russian president Vladimir Putin for outwitting the EU and western leaders.
But Farage retorted that the Liberal Democrat leader was "wilfully lying" about how many laws were imposed on the UK by the EU. "I said yes to these debates. I thought you would honestly make the pro-EU case," Farage said.
"By saying 7% of our laws are made in Brussels, you are wilfully lying to the British people about the extent to which we have given away control of our country and our democracy and I'm really shocked and surprised that you would try and do that."
During one of the hardest-fought passages, Farage warned that immigration had been a "disaster" and left the "white working-class effectively as an underclass".
Speaking after the debate, a senior Lib Dem aide played down the significance of the snap polls. "We've had the chance to speak to millions of people in their homes," the aide said.
"There is an enormous market of people out there who believe in Britain being in Europe. We've had the chance to talk to them this evening. That's what we should be judged on, whether those people turn up and vote for on May 22, not a show of hands who thought who won."
"We laid down the challenge knowing full well we were more likely to lose the snap poll because we had the more complex arguments." The aide said the Deputy PM had "come out and make a more passionate appeal to the heart as well as the head".
Farron also said said Farage's tactic was to use any "cheap, easy, lazy line going" and rejected the accusation that Clegg had gone in for personal attacks first. "I'm sorry Nigel Farage got personal towards the end. I thought he lost his cool. You play the ball not the man. I thought Farage played the man, which is not very big of him."
He added of Farage: "It's all right being the man in the pub, but you should probably stop making decisions when you've been drinking."
A senior Ukip aide said Farage did not have a pint of beer before the debate as he did last time, instead he helped himself to a "glass of BBC mid-range red wine". The aide also hit out at "sanctimonious" Clegg for making personal attacks on Farage and insisted that the Ukip leader was "far more of a clear winner than last week".
Asked if Farage would head to the pub with Clegg to talk over the debate with a pint. The aide joked: "I wouldn't think he is going to spend the rest of the night socialising with Nick Clegg."