Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage during the LBC debate on EU membership. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Hard-headed Clegg trumps Farage in LBC debate

The Deputy PM's pragmatic case for the EU gave him the edge over the tetchy UKIP leader.

Nick Clegg knows that the British will never be romantic Europeans but he believes that they can be pragmatic Europeans. In his first TV debate with Nigel Farage, he eschewed dreamy notions of "ever closer union" in favour of a hard-headed case for the EU: it creates jobs, catches criminals and supports British businesses. Armed with a barrage of statistics, he got the better of the UKIP leader. Clegg was calmer, sharper and more persuaive than a tetchy and sweaty Farage.

The debate did not start well for him. He struggled to defend the Lib Dems' decision not to support a guaranteed in/out EU referendum as Farage charged him with simply not "trusting the people". On immigration, he took the UKIP leader to task for claiming that "29 million" Romanians and Bulgarians could come to the UK, noting that there aren't even that many people in those countries. But Farage punched back strongly, declaring that there were not 29 million because two million had already left and that the free movement of people (a fundamental condition of EU membership) means 485 million have access to Britain. He argued pragmatically that UKIP was in favour of "work permits", which would allow the UK to attract the best from India and New Zealand, not the hoardes of eastern Europe.

But as the contest went on, Clegg's greater experience showed as he wore down a tired Farage. Forget losing three million jobs, he said (accepting the fallibility of that age-old stat), EU withdrawal wasn't worth a single job. At a time of economic insecurity, it was a smart appeal to voters' basic instincts. His strongest moment came when a questioner raised the European arrest warrant. Citing case after case (from Jeremy Forrest to terrorist bombers), he declared that the EU helps us to lock away "murderers, rapists and paedophiles". It was another appeal to the head, rather than the heart, and it worked.

With Clegg always likely to best him on detail, Farage needed to land rhetorical blows - but most of his punches fell flat. He fluffed the inevitable quip that he "didn't agree with Nick" and his populist patter failed to move the audience. As Farage derided the Deputy PM's eurocrat past, Clegg smartly noted that he was the one who was still a European politician, and Farage's lament that he was forced to employ his wife as he works such long hours and has "so little fun" was risible.

But for all this, it is worth remembering that Farage's mere presence tonight was a victory. The leader of a party with no MPs has been elevated to equal status with the Deputy Prime Minister. It will now be far harder to exclude from the leaders' debates in 2015 and to dismiss him as a crankish maverick. For that reason, it is David Cameron who may yet prove to be the biggest loser from tonight.

P.S. The post-debate YouGov poll gave victory to Farage by 57 per cent to 37 per cent. Clegg's strategist Ryan Coetzee is pointing out that this is far higher than the 8 per cent the Lib Dems attract in European election polls. I'm not sure I accept his logic; UKIP could equally point out that 57 per cent is far higher than their usual poll rating. But it is undoubtedly true that the debates could help Clegg to win back Lib Dem defectors and that there is a significant pool of pro-Europeans to appeal to. In a low turnout election, a small swing to the party could make the difference between retaining some of its MEPs and being left with none. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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