The proverbial handbags are out. Nigel isn’t pulling his weight in the European Parliament, according to Nick. Nick’s a hypocrite, according to Nigel.
The Deputy PM has turned his fire on the Ukip leader for ‘failing to stand up for Britain’ and claiming a taxpayer funded salary in the European Parliament but not turning up for votes or voting against laws that might benefit the UK. Inevitably Mr Farage has hit back, claiming Mr Clegg has a poorer voting attendance in Westminster.
The spat is one of a number that is likely to come to the fore ahead of the two party leaders debating over Europe – a debate the BBC has now announced it will host on 2 April. But while the debate will be about Europe, its significance will extend beyond a European election that Ukip hopes to win and the Lib Dems fear substantial if not total losses.
The daily opinion poll published in Benedict Brogan’s morning bulletin puts Ukip on 11 per cent with the Lib Dems holding ten per cent. The Lib Dems are also being squeezed by the Conservatives, who have launched a campaign to downplay the role of their coalition partners in progressing a series of popular policies including a rise in the minimum wage. The argument between Messrs Clegg and Farage is the first of a number we can expect to see not just in advance of the European elections, but in advance of the General Election next May. While questionable as to whether opinion polls will ultimately turn into General Election votes for Ukip, Mr Farage clearly smells Lib Dem blood in the water. For his part, Mr Clegg will have to resist any challenge to the Lib Dems’ position as one of the three major parties at a time when he’s actively looking at how his party could form a coalition with either Labour or the Tories after the election.
The seconds are definitely out, and this particularly bout has a few more rounds left in it.