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Nigel vs Nick: How Clegg Missed an Open-Goal

03/04/2014 10:08 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

Moments before Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg took to the stage for their second debate on Europe, the Ukip leader made a controversial comment stating that it was "more than likely" that it was not Assad but the rebels who had used chemical gas in Syria. Surely this was an open-goal for the Deputy Prime Minister to win the debate hands down? It wasn't. Farage triumphed instead.

If last week's round was a warm up, the second proved to be the real deal. Both men adopted different personas during the live coverage: Clegg remaining passionate but defensive, whilst Farage remained cool and relaxed. Minutes into the debate the Putin question came up, which was unsurprising given that the UKIP leader had previously commented that the Russian President was the leader he most "admired". Clegg went in for the kill claiming, "If I am the leader of party In, he is the leader of party Put-in". Ouch. But despite this being a prime opportunity for the Deputy PM, Farage didn't appear fazed, nor did he suffer a meltdown on stage. Uninterested in fighting fire with fire against Clegg, the UKIP leader simply remained calm and explained his position on Putin's leadership style giving reasoning, which the audience appeared to accept. No harm done.

Clegg's failure in this round was not his passion or enthusiasm. He simply veered off track too frequently throughout the debate, using too many pre-prepared quotes and jokes from his party spin-doctors. In response to one Farage claim, Clegg commented that he wouldn't be surprised if next the UKIP leader "tells us there wasn't a Moon landing, Obama isn't American and that Elvis isn't dead". Such gags hardly showed he was sticking to the subject at hand which was supposed to be Europe, after all.

Nearing the end of the debate, however, Clegg was given an opportunity to redeem himself as an audience member asked the best question of the night, "What will the EU be like in 10 years time?" Clegg could have said "reformed, prosperous, stable", but instead he went for "about the same". The early polls showed that Farage had easily won the debate with 69% voting in support of the UKIP leader, proving that he had connected with the public at home. Yes, UKIP's policies lack sustenance and his anti-establishment stance is a risky option, but when it comes to his personality, Farage often demonstrates how he is 'one of us' which the public appear to buy. Before finishing, Farage got personal with Clegg accusing him of "wilfully lying to the British people" - perhaps the closest he came to crossing the invisible line. Ultimately, Clegg's main issue is that whilst many Britons may want to stay in the EU, they find it difficult to connect with him. This is not because he represents the establishment or the Government, so why didn't he win? Clegg needs to prove that he is on the same level as the public, something that Farage has continued to do since he emerged onto the scene. Once the electorate recognises a leader who appears to be on their side, the battle is half won.