What a couple of ding-dongs! The debates, I mean, not those taking part. LBC and the BBC allowed our two heroes to square up to each other over the course of a brace of battles. Who came out the winner?
First, let's examine our pugilists. Nick Clegg looked initially serene and statesmanlike, the product of years of expert PR sanding and polishing. As a Dimbleby made his opening remarks, Clegg was perched and presidential in his focus-group approved dark blue suit, pale blue shirt and inoffensive Lib-Dem pastel yellow tie. He started calm but as the evening wore on, took on the mien of a tetchy primary school teacher, trying to get the class to cease its finger painting and attend to the fire safety drill.
While the Dimbleby outlined the rules of engagement, Nigel Farage had the look of a stunned mullet. His hands hung heavily by his sides as he stared blankly out into space, as though trying to recall what his wife had told him to pick up from the off licence. His mouth looks agape even when it is closed. He appeared to have been shot and mounted right there behind the lectern, until he was invited to present his opening remarks and he shocked into life like a Punch and Judy doll had a cattle prod inserted up its hand hole. He looked like his own Spitting Image puppet.
Farage talked of Britain getting off its knees, a position that Britons might not recognise. It is the same type of rhetoric that the mountain people of the Tea Party movement in America repeat when the say they want to take America back. Whatever that means.
He spoke of immigration right from the off, because that's what has got him to where he is today - playing on (especially older) people's prejudices about foreigners. Let's be honest, his supporters have not spent hours going over the cost benefit analyses of the free movement of labour, or of unrestricted trade in the Euro-zone, they have been enticed into the Ukip fold by talk of "them coming over here..." etc... and so on.
Set against this appeal to the public's inner Alf Garnett, Clegg's arguments sounded weak and unfocused. That is because the economic and social arguments for staying a part of the European Union are so labyrinthine and fantastically complex that they make long term weather forecasting look simple.
As a nation we have found that, by and large, we can not add two numbers together without recourse to a calculator, so how on earth can we come to a decision based on our understanding of the facts? We want simple notions, painted with broad brush strokes and that is what Farage can offer. The argument for staying in the EU can not compete with that because it does not speak to people's guts.
Throughout, Nick was bested by the well practised barrage of Farage and Clegg sometimes seemed to be making things up on the spot, as though he was surprised to be there. Nigel knows that even if you are talking out of your hat, if you do it with vehemence, then the people will be inclined to believe you. Nick seemed inconsequential and a tiny bit wet by comparison. That is the problem of trying to appeal to people with complex and amorphous arguments. We are much more easily persuaded by simplicity and volume.
Farage petitioned us with the comforting refrain that things should be like they used to be. Clegg's argument, that we should embrace the now, just does not have the same reassuring ring to it.
In truth, we should all be "don't knows" because the complex arguments are beyond us. If professional economists with brains the size of cars and computers the size of planets can not agree, then how are we to make an informed judgement on whether it would be better for the future of our country to be in or out of the European Union?
After the two debates, those that want out had their prejudices reinforced. Everyone else seems to be in the position of not caring that much. Nigel and Nick came out of the debates about as popular as they went in.
The publicity that surrounded the contests was huge, however. The attention that they brought to the broadcasts was immense. The spotlight that was shined on the instigator of the tournament was blinding. And so the one clear winner, the undisputed victor in these meetings of minds? No question: LBC.Suggest a correction