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The Questions Clegg Should Not Ask Farage Tonight

26/03/2014 11:19 GMT | Updated 25/05/2014 10:59 BST

People like Nigel Farage. People do not like Miliband, Cameron or Clegg. These simple truths are at the heart of Ukip's popularity and of 'establishment' parties' unpopularity.

Unfortunately most pundits, politicians and journalists fail to take note of this situation and instead spend their time trying to counter Farage (and his fiefdom, Ukip) by criticising him on policy and practice. This strategy is doomed to fail because it fails to acknowledge why he is so well-liked.

Mehdi Hasan, political director of HuffPost UK, today posed 19 questions that he thinks Clegg should ask Farage. With the greatest of respect to Hasan, I think he's missing the point.

The best thing to come out of the debate tonight for Clegg would be to not sound like the wet fish he normally does. And if he asks the questions that Hasan has suggested, he may as well just give up now.

I thought I'd respond to each of the questions Hasan poses to indicate why they are the wrong ones to ask. To save some space, I condensed the questions, so apologies for any misrepresentation of what was originally asked.

1) Why should we believe what Ukip says, and not the Institute of Directors, a body representing the captains of industry?

Because, like most industry trade associations, they speak for a very narrow, unrepresentative demographic of the population. Those who like Ukip tend to hate 'business' and 'the rich', which the IoD is associated with. The 'threat to the UK economy' argument is a valid but tired one that bores most voters to death.

2) Isn't it true that the number of European migrants in the UK is almost exactly balanced by the number of Britons living elsewhere in the EU?

Well yes, that is a fact. But again, Ukip fans probably couldn't care less. They tend to be working class and not likely to have the option of living abroad.

3) What would happen to the 2.2million Britons who live in the EU if we pull out? Forcible repatriation to the UK?

I don't think even Ukip are arguing for forced repatriation, even if they do spout a lot of crap. The question is an absurd one to ask and would make Cleggers sound childish and amateur.

4) The EU costs us 37p per person a day. Do you really think that's unaffordable? A little over half the cost of a Mars bar?

For many people, that 37p is 37p too much and for many people probably does make a difference. Cleggers would sound out of touch and arrogant. Also, the calculation is slightly puerile, based on net contribution divided by the number of days in a year and the population of the UK. It is impossible to say what it costs us because of the number of variables and contributing factors. Best avoid this minefield.

5) How much money have you personally claimed in expenses from the European Parliament, in addition to your salary?

Farage and his gang have never made any secret of the fact that they take funds from the European Parliament. In fact, they actively boast about it. Ukip fans generally seem to find it quite funny that European Parliament funds are spent to bring about the demise of the European Parliament.

6) If you're so worried about the EU 'gravy train' and 'value for money' in Brussels, why did a member of your party's NEC ask Ukip MEPs to divert £10,000 each from their European parliamentary allowances and salaries to Ukip headquarters?

See above.

7) Is it true that EU authorities have been asked to investigate whether Ukip staff in the UK are being paid with EU money, in breach of EU regulations? That's pretty embarrassing, isn't it?

See above. (Also, 'pretty embarrassing, isn't it?' is an attempt to be witty, which Clegg can't do but Farage can, so best not to try it.)

8) How embarrassed were you personally when former Ukip MEP Tom Wise was jailed in 2009 for expenses fraud?

This is a gift to Farage and one he can respond to with the simple sentence "Very embarrassed which is why they are no longer in Ukip". Once again, Ukip fans generally don't seem that fussed about the integrity of UKIP since they see that most of the political establishment is corrupt.

9) What empirical evidence do you have that benefit tourism is a problem?

Cardinal sin number one. Do not argue with Ukip on the basis of fact or 'empirical evidence'. No one cares if there is or isn't actually a problem. The whole immigration debate is about perception, not reality. Farage isn't popular because of his loyalty to the truth. He is popular because he quite happily says 'fuck off' to politicians like Clegg. Getting bogged down in facts and figures is precisely what he will want to happen.

10) Isn't it the case that migrants from the new EU countries have paid 30% more in taxes to the UK exchequer than they've taken out in benefits or public services?

Yes. But again, Ukip supporters don't care about this sort of thing. They care about the perceived invasion of their suburbs by Gypsies.

11) Which taxes would you have raised to replace the £5billion that migrants from eastern Europe are estimated to have contributed to our economy between 2004 and 2011?

See above. Also Farage isn't trying to list policy initiatives like this question would suggest. He is a populist so can say whatever he likes. He'd probably just say he'd pay for out of money saved by leaving the EU.

12) Why do you think it is that Ukip doesn't have any female MEPs?

Only a narrow demographic of flustered Guardian reading feminists really care about this. Ukip supporters almost certainly do not.

13) Could it be because, as former Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen once put it, you're an "anti-women.. dictator" whose view is that "women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom"?

He will simply say 'she's angry so don't listen to her'.

14) Doesn't the political group you sit in the European Parliament include representatives of the Danish People's Party, the True Finns Party and Italy's Lega Nord - all of them pretty far-right parties?

Most political groups in the European Parliament have some shady characters in their ranks, even the group to which the Labour party belongs to. And again, Ukip supporters don't care.

15) You're fellow co-chair of the EFD, the Lega Nord's Francesco Speroni, has described far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose "ideas are in defence of western civilisation" - why don't you take this opportunity tonight to distance yourself from him and his horrific remarks?

Well of course he doesn't agree with what Speroni said! Farage may be some things but I think it's fair to say he isn't a Breivik sympathiser. Ukip supporters probably wouldn't care either way anyway.

16) Do you support your colleague Gerard Batten's demand that British Muslims sign up to a special code of conduct?

Farage has already said he doesn't agree with this initiative. The issue is, as far as he is concerned, dead and buried. And again, Ukip supporters probably quite like the idea anyway.

17) And do you share Batten's support for a ban on any new mosques across the whole of Europe?

See above.

18) You often claim to speak for Joe Public - are you aware that the latest poll shows more Britons want to stay in the EU (41%) than leave (39%)?

He speaks for Joe Public in general terms, not specifically on Europe. This is the heart of the matter in fact. People like him because he is a voice they recognise. He is angry, irreverent and anti-establishment. Most people couldn't care less about Europe. So this question misses the point.

19) What is it that you most object to about the UK's membership of the EU - the cheaper and safer flights; the cheaper and better phone calls; the cleaner beaches and action on climate change; the higher food safety standards; the tackling of cross-border crime; the single market; the 3million jobs; the 57 years of peace; the global influence?

Farage can quite easily respond that most of these things are moot points. Flight safety, food standards etc could all be implemented by an independent nation state. The benefits of the Single Market and the figure of 3million jobs are regularly tossed about but rarely quantified solidly. The peace point and 'global influence' are also much debated. And again, Ukip supporters do not care about any of this because they are angry.

Apologies to Hasan for being a bit rough. But these questions are the wrong ones.

Far better would be a simple one liner.

"Do you think shouting and screaming like a petulant child is a particularly edifying approach to politics or would you agree that there are more constructive approaches to achieving one's political ends?"