General election leaders' debate: who won?
Neither leader attempted any jokes, and Boris Johnson’s typical verbal flair was not in evidence. Both men played it pretty safe, but the audience was clearly sceptical about their answers on several occasions, scoffing at Jeremy Corbyn’s evasion over Brexit and the prime minister’s record on telling the truth.
Corbyn: The Labour leader’s big message was much wider than Brexit, making broad pledges about how Labour will share wealth and power, and on climate, the NHS and Brexit.
Johnson: The prime minister was keen to stress that the election was only happening because parliament was deadlocked over Brexit. He repeated his mantra over and over again that a Conservative-majority government would get Brexit done, and that Labour would cause “dither and delay”.
Corbyn: The Labour leader waved a redacted document, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, that covered early trade negotiations between the UK and US. It was quite a moment as he accused the prime minister: “You’re going to sell our NHS out to the US and big pharma.”
Johnson: The prime minister had Corbyn most on the ropes when pressing him about his position on Brexit. “He will not set out his plan, and will not be clear whether he’s for leave or remain. He is refusing to rule out campaigning against his own deal,” he said.
Corbyn: The Labour leader used every opportunity he could to highlight the threat to the NHS from a Conservative government. He attempted to move the conversation away from Brexit and on to domestic policy.
Johnson: His main aim was to get through the debate without losing his temper or making any major gaffes, while ramming home the message that he would “get Brexit done”.
Corbyn: The Labour leader muddled his facts over Johnson’s Brexit deal saying it “narrowly got through the House of Commons with the support of the DUP”, when in fact they opposed it. By mentioning support for Johnson’s deal in parliament, he also gave the prime minister the opportunity to talk about the number of people who voted for it at its second reading.
Johnson: The audience laughed openly at the prime minister when he was asked if the truth mattered, and he replied: “Yes, I think it does.” It was not clear whether they simply disbelieved him or were incredulous that he did not answer with more certainty.
Corbyn: The Labour leader was repeatedly unable to answer which way he would vote in a second EU referendum. He was asked several times and repeated the party’s position that Labour would negotiate a new deal and then put that to the people.
Johnson: The PM swerved a question over doubts about his integrity by simply attacking Corbyn over antisemitism and trying to change the subject on to Brexit. He also dodged answering a direct question on Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview about the royal’s friendship with the convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and caused a stir by saying the monarchy was “beyond reproach”.
Corbyn: Labour strategists will be happy with leader’s solid performance with no big slip-ups. Although there was no breakthrough moment, he landed a blow with the document that showed trade talks with the US could include the NHS. But he did not manage to get in many attacks on Johnson personally on scandals such as his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, or having been sacked for lying.
Johnson: The Tory spinners will most likely be fairly relieved by his performance, given they sent him out with the primary objective of not creating much news. He was also able to repeatedly press home his key attack lines on Brexit. But they may be worried about his inability to be convincing on matters of trust.