David Cameron and Nigel Farage both avoided making any disastrous blunders during last night’s TV showdown and for that reason alone they’ll be pleased with their performances. Those in the ‘Leave’ camp especially were concerned about what Farage might do or say when he took to the stage. On the basis of last night’s showing, however, they need not have worried too much (albeit for the moment he told a woman watching to calm down). But as with last week’s EU events involving the Prime Minister and Michael Gove, much of the press coverage doesn’t focus on the two politicians who took the stage. Instead, it’s those in the audience who made life difficult for Farage and Cameron who get much of the attention. So what did the papers make of who came out on top?
The Mirror say in their report that Nigel Farage was ‘destroyed’ by the audience member he told to calm down. The coverage goes on to tell how the woman ‘blasted’ him over the views he expressed about the Cologne sex attacks. Going as far as saying the women ‘destroyed’ Farage is obviously excessive: aside from his comments telling her to ‘calm down’ he largely handled her sustained questioning well. But it’ll be disappointing for those campaigning for Brexit that the TV event can be condensed down into a moment which doesn’t show Farage at his best. It also does nothing to encourage female voters to back Brexit – a worry given how crucial women are likely to be in this referendum.
In the Mail, it’s the Prime Minister who was seen to have had the hardest time from the audience over the issue of immigration. The report says that Cameron was ‘repeatedly battered on the issue’ by those watching. In particular, it focuses on a dad-of-three who blamed uncontrolled immigration for not being able to find a house or GP to register at. This is an issue which is unsurprisingly proving critical in the referendum campaign. But whilst the Remain campaign and Government have done their best to steer clear of the issue, it’s somewhat trickier to do when confronted by an audience member like this. What was telling about the PM’s response was his urgency to flip the issue at stake from immigration to the economy. He said: ‘On this issue of migration I absolutely agree it is a challenge, but I don’t think it is a challenge we should meet by damaging our economy.’ But given how the Mail’s report focuses so squarely on the topic of immigration, it seems he wasn’t too successful in conflating those two things to his advantage.
The Daily Telegraph‘s take out line from the debate is Cameron’s claim that Britain isn’t a nation of quitters and that because of that we should stay put in the EU. The paper says: ‘Only quitters who don’t love Britain back Brexit, says Cameron’. That headline will have been quite predictable for the PM to have envisaged when he made that remark during the debate last night. But whilst it might persuade some to come on board, there’s a danger it’ll wind up wavering voters already smarting at some of the ‘Project Fear’ tactics used by the ‘Remain’ camp.
In the Times, David Cameron’s comments about presenting the referendum as a choice between a ‘broad-based cross-party coalition’ and ‘Nigel Farage’s Little England option’ are the focus. It’s clear from this just why he wanted to appear on stage at the same event as Farage. He hopes that the Ukip leader looks like a toxic option compared to the numerous politicians who are backing him over the referendum. But whilst the report here does mention some of Farage’s less well-advised moments from during the TV event (including telling the woman to calm down), it also focuses on Cameron’s failure to properly deal with a ‘barrage of questions about EU rules that meant Britain could not limit immigration’.
David Cameron’s apparent inability to deal with this issue was also the focus in The Sun. The coverage here describes how the PM ‘was blasted for failing the nation over immigration’. Much of the report focuses on the PM’s weaker points, including net migration and also his renegotiation deal, described by the paper as having ‘humiliated’ the Government. Farage’s comments in the debate are relegated down to the bottom of the article and this sort of coverage will heap further pressure on the Prime Minister as the referendum date gets ever closer.
|Will Britain vote to leave the EU? Can the Tories survive the aftermath? Join James Forsyth, Isabel Hardman and Fraser Nelson to discuss at a subscriber-only event at the Royal Institution, Mayfair, on Monday 20 June. Tickets are on sale now. Not a subscriber? Click here to join us, from just £1 a week.|