Isabel Hardman

Is Nigel Farage wimping out on scary Nick Clegg’s debate challenge?

Is Nigel Farage wimping out on scary Nick Clegg's debate challenge?
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Who knew Nick Clegg was so scary? As James revealed this morning, the Lib Dem leader has challenged Nigel Farage, never knowingly silent, to a televised leaders' debate for the European elections. But the Ukip response isn't quite so enthusiastic. The party's director of communications Patrick O'Flynn has said that ‘it would be ridiculous if Nick Clegg were to refuse to extend his invitation to David Cameron and Ed Miliband too’ and that ‘we also want to know from David Cameron and Ed Miliband that they are not running scared and will be happy to present their case on the EU to the British public as well. We can see no reason why they would not wish to take part’.

Farage has his own phone-in on LBC tomorrow morning, where he will respond in full. Which gives Clegg the opportunity to call in, if he wishes, and ask the Ukip leader if he's scared of a debate. If the Ukip leader sticks to his guns and calls for a debate between all four party leaders, it's because he doesn't really want a debate to happen - David Cameron would not agree to a debate involving Farage.

Which is odd, because debating a pro-EU politician who doesn't believe in an In/Out referendum on Britain's relationship with Europe would be a much easier way for Farage to pitch for the Eurosceptic vote than giving space for Cameron to remind everyone that the Conservatives have promised one and have been trying to legislate for it too. When I chatted to Farage recently, he admitted that this pledge by the PM had weakened Ukip's appeal to any would-be defectors in Parliament. If he debated Clegg alone, he would risk no such dilution of his message.