The first thing to say about last night is that it could have been a lot worse for Vote Leave. What they would have wanted to avoid at the outset was Farage ending up saying something offensive that was quotable; they dodged that bullet. The UKIP leader was aggressive and nervous, however, and didn’t come off well. A UKIP supporter once told me that Nigel is a “rock star politician”, and I agree with him although not in the way he intended the comment: Farage is a great orator when surrounded by legions of his fans and admirers, but can’t handle a hostile audience in any way and becomes petulant when forced to do so. The guy has spent the last few weeks travelling around the country getting asked questions along the lines of, “When we regain sovereignty back from Brussels and you’re prime minister, how great will that utopia feel like to ordinary Britons?”. Last night, he had to face down questions from people whose livelihoods are dependent on the single market and couldn’t deal with it.
Cameron was fine as he is always fine. He was composed and in control the whole time, looking as prime ministerial as ever. He got softer questions than Farage did and many a Leaver will be crying “ITV establishment stitch up” over the next few days, but it would have been hard to avoid. People who hate Nigel Farage really deeply detest the man, and while there are people out there who dislike Cameron with equal fervour, they’re mostly on the Left and mostly pro-Remain. It was telling that the biggest wobble of the night for Cameron was on a question about NHS funding – one that had nothing to do with Britain’s membership of the EU whatsoever.
I doubt that last night will change things much in terms of the referendum outcome. Had Cameron not won the night, it would have been a disaster for the Remain side; equally, all the Leavers had to do was escape from the evening without Farage having said something unquestionably xenophobic and they did so. The thing it will help Remain do is to try and link Vote Leave and Farage together as being synonymous – Cameron got the ball rolling with this last night, mentioning Farage several times in an attempt to get voters to view a vote for Leave as a vote for Farage. Time will tell if this strategy works or not.