There should be no losers in the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg over Europe. Neither expects to convert many of the other’s opponents to their point of view. They don’t need to. Both could gain wavering supporters from other parties or amongst the ‘don’t knows’.
Here are two politicians grasping the initiative to discuss something they both really believe in. This should be an authentic argument. Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage both know their subject. Both have experience as MEPs. They have chosen the topic of debate and have won the opportunity to discuss one subject in detail, in contrast to the usual soundbites and superficial coverage.
The personal chemistry should be fairly positive, but the debate sharp. Nigel Farage picked Nick Clegg as his favourite among the other party leaders.
If the debate attracts sufficient interest, it could be the forerunner of more in-depth discussions of subjects which rarely attract the most informed of comment. Perhaps immigration would benefit from an in-depth and informed airing along the same lines.
For the Lib Dems this should be an opportunity to start building a more lasting coalition of voters for the future. The party has the longest track record of consistent support for Europe. The party learned to survive and grow as a party of protest, re-building a coalition of voters at each election, mainly amongst those who wanted to protest against the two biggest parties. This is now Ukip’s job.
The Lib Dems have now turned into a party of government. They need to build a more solid base of supporters who are attracted by distinctive policies. This is the chance to showcase one of them.
Unless, Nigel Farage or Nick Clegg makes a complete hash of the debate - which they probably won’t - it should be a win-win situation, not just for these two parties, but for thorough political debate and engagement. I predict a win-win result.