The real loser of the BBC’s challenger debate, was neither the Prime Minister nor any of the participants.
On Thursday the BBC hosted a five-way debate between the main ‘challenger’ parties - Labour, UKIP, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party. There has been a Mirror/Survation snap poll that showed Ed Miliband having won with Leanne Wood in last place. But the relevance of this poll is questionable, it seems no surprise the leader of the biggest party was deemed the winner, while the leader of the smallest party the loser.
The real loser was the man that wasn’t even mentioned - Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats, the party he leads, have had electoral success in the past by being the protest party, and being seen as the genuine alternative to the main two parties. This debate has seen the Liberal Democrats completely overshadowed by the other smaller parties.
The debate made the Lib Dems look completely irrelevant. David Cameron was also not present, but his absence felt obvious (and was continuously mentioned by Ed Miliband). For Nick Clegg, however, this debate made it feel like he’d never been part of the last five years - and would have even less part in the next five years. The Lib Dems felt like neither one of the ‘challenger’ parties nor part of the government.
The debate would have presented an opportunity for Nick Clegg to ram home the Lib Dem message, showing how he could act as a break on Ed Miliband being dragged to the left by the SNP, while also showing the danger UKIP could present to a future coalition with the Conservatives.
It would have also been a good opportunity for Nick Clegg to sell himself again. He burst onto the scene in the 2010 debates, going from a relatively unknown leader to a household name. Although he is now very unpopular in the polls, he remains a very capable debater, and any opportunity to improve his image could only have been a good thing for the struggling Lib Dems.
The debate will continue over whether it was a good or bad decision by David Cameron to refuse to take part in the debate, and the actual winner is hard to judge. But it is clear Nick Clegg lost out - the challenger debate only succeeded to push the Lib Dems further into the periphery of the electorates mind and made them seem even less relevant.