James Forsyth

How Nick Clegg missed his chance with Nigel Farage

How Nick Clegg missed his chance with Nigel Farage
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At the start of the year, some of the air seemed to have gone out of the Ukip balloon. The party’s warnings about the scale of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration to Britain hadn’t been borne out by events. But the debates with Nick Clegg enabled Nigel Farage to get his momentum back. In those debates, Clegg was too passive in the first one and then over-compensated in the second with the result that he ended up losing both of them.

Clegg’s decision to not engage with Farage in the first debate meant that he missed his best chance to get under the Ukip leader’s skin. Strikingly, Farage admits to Decca Aitkenhead that if he had done that, he might well have lost his temper:

“"He really, really tried to dig me in the ribs in that second one, but I knew I was calm, I knew I was in control. I think if he'd gone down that line in the first debate, I might well have snapped. Which I would have enjoyed – but probably no one else would have."

Farage also makes clear to Aitkenhead that he’s concentrating on disillusioned Labour voters in this campaign, hence the emphasis on immigration. If this strategy works and Ukip do top the poll, then Ed Miliband is going to come under immense pressure from his own side to offer an EU referendum.