Tomorrow’s TV debate between the seven party leaders is the chance for the insurgent parties to muscle up to the mainstream leaders, make them look tired and old, and in doing so gain more supporters. But the leader with the biggest challenge is Nick Clegg, the insurgent in the 2010 debates, now coming to the end of five years in government. How does he fight Farage and boost the Lib Dem brand?
The Lib Dem leader has been rehearsing with colleagues playing his rivals like all the other politicians, but I understand that his preparations for the debate have a rather more stellar quality to them than his opponents’ rehearsals. John Cleese, a Lib Dem supporter, recently suggested to the Deputy Prime Minister at a party event that he could play Nigel Farage in the rehearsals. The creator and star of Fawlty Towers was apparently half-joking, but Clegg was rather taken by the idea, partly because it would make the rehearsals less onerous and also because after writing the Fawlty scripts, Cleese is clearly pretty good at throwing a few disconcerting curveballs into a conversation.
Sources tell me that Cleese joined the Lib Dem leader at a private rehearsal last week, and that he was ‘brilliant’. When Coffee House approached Cleese for confirmation, he said: ‘Nigel Farage seems like a good-natured Basil Fawlty. He is definitely a Ukip supporter, but Sybil is voting for Cameron. She likes a bit of class.’ The main worry now is that the real debate won’t be quite as entertaining as a rehearsal with Basil Fawlty.
UPDATE, 09:55: For those struggling to imagine Cleese playing Farage in rehearsal, a Lib Dem insider has got in touch with a picture from the closed session last week: