Last night, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson clashed over Brexit, the NHS and the economy in the first head-to-head debate of the election. So, who won?
Brexit dominated the first half of the debate. Corbyn came under fire as he failed to answer whether he would back leave or remain in a referendum and stated his Brexit policy was clear, prompting laughter from the audience. However, when Corbyn pulled out the redacted government report on UK/US trade and criticised Johnson for ‘selling off’ the NHS, it injected some much-needed energy into his early performance.
Johnson’s main message about implementing an already negotiated Brexit deal cuts through to the public and the certainty it provides gives him an electoral advantage on Brexit. However, Johnson faced his own problems with Corbyn attacking him for putting the NHS ‘on the table’ in a trade deal with the US, although Johnson has repeatedly denied it, the soundbite has proved successful for Corbyn. Johnson also faced laughter when he guaranteed an exit from the EU by December 2020 considering his failure to leave by October 2019, something he said he would do 40 times.
Scottish Independence also proved troublesome for Corbyn who hasn’t ruled out a second independence vote whereas Johnson gave a clear answer of no more referendums. Corbyn strongly denied any suggestion he would enter into a coalition with the SNP, clearly eager to avoid Ed Miliband’s fatal mistake.
The final question of part one concerned trust and behaviour in politics. Corbyn managed to stay composed, even as he came under fire for the anti-semitism scandal, he condemned racism and talked about the importance of listening to the public. Johnson struggled to answer, trying to redirect the question back to Brexit, although he claimed he could be trusted the unlawful prorogation and the need for court action to force him to comply with the law, made it hard for him to defend his record.
Johnson dominated the first half, but part two gave Corbyn a chance to fight back on a topic other than Brexit. Corbyn got into his element, in a compassionate plea he pledged to reverse privatisation and to abolish the internal market. Johnson promised investment but struggled as Corbyn pointed out his 40 new hospitals wasn’t quite truthful.
The debate then moved onto the economy. Both leaders categorically declared an end to austerity. Corbyn reiterated his key policies of reducing poverty and wealth inequality whereas Johnson focused on his plan to invest in the ‘peoples priorities’, although he struggled to answer why the Tories fiscal policy had shifted so dramatically since 2017.
The debate concluded with Johnson promising to get Brexit done, whilst Corbyn pledged to sort Brexit, end privatisation and tackle Climate Change. Interestingly, Corbyn focused more on his policy whereas Johnson focused on Brexit and attacking Corbyn, perhaps due to a lack of his own policy. Although, Johnson’s message of getting Brexit done may resonate strongly with the British public, a few weeks into the campaign, the non-stop Brexit talk seems a bit tiresome and desperate.
So who won? It was very close, Johnson won part one but Corbyn fought back in part two. Overall, not much has changed, the debate was almost evenly matched, but by a small margin, Corbyn was the winner.