POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nigel 2. Nick 0.

03/04/2014 08:29 BST | Updated 03/04/2014 08:59 BST
Yui Mok/PA Wire
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arriving at BBC Broadcasting House, London, for his second televised debate with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Here are the five things you need to know on Thursday 3 April 2014...

1) NIGEL 2. NICK 0.

Happy birthday, Nigel. From the Huffington Post UK:

"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%."

Farage is now, as the BBC's Nick Robinson noted on the Today programme this morning, one of British politics' "big beasts". The MEP, whose party has no seats in parliament and controls no major councils, went toe to toe with the deputy prime minister, two weeks running, on live television, and won both debates - the second by a wider margin, according to the polls, than the first. And, lest we forget, these debates were Clegg's, not Farage's, idea. Oh dear.

As the Guardian reports on its front page:

"Clegg will still hope to benefit from at least being the man willing to fight Ukip populism, but the image of the man that can 'Stop Nigel' has been badly dented. The Lib Dem insisted afterwards he could not turn the Eurosceptic tide in the UK in two hours of debate. But the outcome is also likely to convince Cameron that TV debates in a general election would be highly unpredictable and combustible, and therefore worth avoiding."

Farage showed us all the power of value of populist politics - a lesson the right, not the left, has learned since the financial crisis. As the Times reports:

"Nigel Farage claimed Brussels had turned Britain’s 'white working class' into an 'underclass' last night as he put immigration at the heart of a populist pitch to leave the EU that forced Nick Clegg on to the back foot. The Ukip leader accused Mr Clegg of 'wilfully lying' and warned the EU could end in violent disorder... In a more assured performance, Mr Farage sidestepped an attack over his admiration of Vladimir Putin, hitting back at the Deputy Prime Minister’s support for 'foreign wars'. He also turned the economic arguments for EU membership against what he described as the 'elite club of career politicians and big business' benefiting from a 'cheap-labour economy'."

Astonishingly, across two hours, on two broadcast media outlets, up against a well-informed opponent and taking questions from live studio audiences, Farage wasn't questioned even once over Ukip's dodgy far-right allies in the European Parliament, over Ukip MEP Gerard Batten's dodgy anti-Muslim remarks or over his own dodgy remarks about being unable to hear people speaking English on his train. As I said: happy birthday, Nigel. You couldn't have asked for a better gift from the pro-Europeans.

2) THE SCOTTISH ANGLE TO 2015

From the Times splash:

"David Cameron is being urged to rewrite the rules of the 2015 general election in the Tories’ favour if Scotland votes for independence. The Prime Minister is being lobbied by senior Conservatives who want him to ban the 59 Scottish constituencies from taking part in the election if Alex Salmond wins the referendum in September. The exclusion of Scotland could determine the next government. In 2010, Labour won 41 Scottish seats, the Lib Dems 11, the SNP 6 and the Tories just one. If the 2015 election is close, restricting it to England, Wales and Northern Ireland could make the difference between having a Conservative or Labour Prime Minister."

3) THE DUNCE OF DOWNING STREET

First, he messed up by selling off Royal Mail at the wrong price. Then he tried to cover his back by making a false accusation against the Labour Party. Dave wasn't on good form at PMQs yesterday. The Guardian has the details:

"David Cameron has falsely claimed the Labour party pledged to privatise Royal Mail in its manifesto for the 2010 general election. As he faced intense pressure from Ed Miliband, who branded the prime minister the 'dunce of Downing Street' after a National Audit Office (NAO) report said the government had dramatically undervalued Royal Mail, Cameron dismissed the attacks by wrongly claiming that Labour had called for privatisation in its manifesto. The prime minister picked up on Miliband's claim that the privatisation of Royal Mail was a 'sale nobody wanted and nobody voted for'. Cameron said: "It was in his manifesto. It was a commitment of the last government'... The prime minister's remarks are directly contradicted by the Labour manifesto, which called for extra investment for Royal Mail within the public sector. The manifesto said: 'The Royal Mail and its staff are taking welcome and needed steps to modernise work practices. For the future, continuing modernisation and investment will be needed by the Royal Mail in the public sector.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this classic sketch from Not The Nine O Clock News, on trade union negotiations. Hilarious.

4) MORE TAX CUTS, PLEASE

Guess what backbench Tories want? The Times reports:

"Tax breaks for legacies that help people to get on the housing ladder or boost their retirement pots should be included in a Tory manifesto at the next election, David Cameron was urged last night. Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said the positive welcome given to George Osborne's annuities reform showed the extent of the public's desire to have more control over their own assets, including services funded from taxes... Delivering this year's Keith Joseph Lecture last night, the MP urged his party to ignore warnings of a housing bubble and redouble efforts to help more people to own their own property. 'Home ownership not only generates personal wealth and means people have somewhere to live, it also gives a psychological sense of worth from owning a sizeable asset as well as the comfort of knowing we have something to pass on to future generations,' he said."

Who gives a damn about social mobility, the housing bubble or the budget deficit, eh?

5) I LOVE WAITROSE

From the front page of the Telegraph:

"David Cameron has lavished praise on Waitrose, lauding customers of the supermarket as more 'talkative and engaged' than those who shop elsewhere. The Prime Minister spoke of his loyalty to Waitrose on a visit to John Lewis, the supermarket's parent company, in Cheadle near Manchester. Mr Cameron said he chose Waitrose wherever possible, and is also a customer of Ocado, the online retailer, which delivers Waitrose groceries to Downing Street for him. In what he described as 'supermarket sociology', he suggested that Waitrose customers are more likely to engage him in conversation than others... He added: 'If I shop in Waitrose it takes me about twice as long as everyone wants to stop you, and have a chat.'"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 32

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 76.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "Anti-Establishment venom proves lethal to pro-European arguments."

Ian Traynor, writing in the Guardian, says: "Nigel Farage conjures up a populist view of an EU that does not exist."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Tims, says: "The Left’s bogeymen have never gone away."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol