Clegg v Farage: Why on earth did Nick Clegg's advisers let him do it?

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

Some years ago I was at a media event that was hosted by a comedian and attended by Piers Morgan who attempted to heckle from the audience. He was humiliated.

I remember thinking: “Whatever made him think he could ever win against a professional comedian with a microphone?” Hubris and arrogance, of course.

Last night as I watched round two of the Farage v Clegg debate I had similar thoughts. Nigel Farage is not a professional clown but he is a populist. Clegg handed him the stage of his dreams and the BBC gave him prime time.

Why on earth did Nick Clegg do it and what did he hope to achieve? This time I believe it was arrogance and desperation. Clegg obviously thought before the first debate that he would wipe the floor with Nigel Farage and his party was desperate enough, with the local and European elections coming up, to try to claw back some of the voters they have lost during their time in coalition.

Clegg has some good advisers but they were just wrong to allow him to go head to head with a political nobody who is playing the pantomime part of a mainstream party leader and to compound their decision they armed the Lib Dem with jokes and one liners that deserved rotten tomatoes.

Labour and the Conservatives said very little after the event and they got very little people to say it. David Cameron and David Miliband stayed well clear and the Tories’ Anna Soubry (who) and Labour’s Emily Thornberry (look her up) gave the bland remarks their parties hoped for.

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, gave his verdict saying: “Nigel Farage – whose party was once dismissed as a home for fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists – has established himself as a big beast in the political jungle.

“Some feared, others hoped, he would struggle to survive for two hours toe-to-toe in live debate with the deputy prime minister. They were wrong.”

The polls also came out in favour of Farage, giving him an enormous margin of victory and the kudos of beating Clegg who four years ago in the leadership debates came out on top.

Farage won by feeding on the fears of the British public, citing the growth in immigration, the push by mainstream politicians to get involved in Syria and Ukraine and their disregard for the little people.

The UKIP leader said immigration was "good for the rich because it's cheaper nannies and cheaper chauffers and cheaper gardeners but it's bad news for ordinary Britons.”

The scale of immigration over recent years had shocked the country and increased segregation in towns and cities.

But he said the worst social impact was that "it has left the white working class effectively as an underclass, and I think that is a disaster for our society".

Clegg said that Farage, the pub bore, wished for an old world where Britain had an empire and women stayed at home and painted his opponent as a dangerous conspiracy theorist.

The pub bore won and today he will be celebrating his 50th birthday by downing a few pints of ale and a couple of bottles of wine with lunch and contemplating a political future that one day may include Ukip MPs.