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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on ITV leaders debate
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on the ITV leaders debate 2019courtesy of ITV

Six takeaways from the Johnson v Corbyn TV debate

Will we ever talk about anything other than Brexit? Maybe not

This generation-defining general election is just over three weeks away. As is custom, the party leaders appear on television stood behind plinths and present their vision of the future to the electorate watching at home (or the estimated 3 million of them). This time, it was a one-on-one between Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson, much to the consternation of the left out Liberal Democrats, who now at least have something else to complain about beyond Brexit.

The format is simple: a moderator presents questions to the leaders from the audience, said leaders fight to speak over each other and guide the conversation back to their preferred topics. There’s lots of audience scoffing and tittering. It’s a brutal fight for attention, and this scrap was of particular interest as it was the first time that the two leaders had debated during this hastily assembled campaign.

So what went down?

JOHNSON ONLY HAD ONE THING TO TALK ABOUT

What has dominated every single minute of conversation in Britain, anywhere, anytime for the past three years? No, not the inevitable death of streetwear – Brexit. Johnson is a man with few ideas and a lot to hide, including the fact that he... doesn’t have many ideas. This means that he doesn’t want this election to be general at all, he wants it to be single issue. Any question he was asked he’d divert back to Brexit, tediously describing his deal as “oven-ready”, a line he’s been consistently trotting out on the campaign trail. As the debate closed, he was asked what he’d give Corbyn for Christmas – he replied, “a copy of my Brexit deal” to loud groans. “Get Brexit done” is the new “Brexit means Brexit”, which was the new (or the old –  my mind is rotten and ruined) “Strong and stable”. Meaningless shit. Corbyn had to repeat Labour’s stance on Brexit again and again: negotiate a new deal within three months, hold another referendum within six months, provide the option to remain.

Johnson – with the help of his friends in the media – has managed to curate an image of himself as a dexterous, nimble orator and communicator, but he’s vacuous, blustering, and repetitive - there's a “Last Stranger Still At The Afterparty And Up For Another Drink If Anyone Else Is” vibe to him.

THE TORIES REBRANDED AN OFFICIAL PARTY ACCOUNT TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A FACT-CHECKING SERVICE

During the debate, a bizarre thing happened on Twitter – the official Conservative party press account switched its design and logo to make it look like an official fact-checking account. This should be illegal really, but Twitter gave them a paltry slap on the wrist, with a warning of action for the next time they attempt to mislead anyone. “Normal people” who jokingly switched up their accounts to mimic the FactCheckUK move were suspended. Weird. Foreign Secretrary Dominic Raab said it was fine, because no-one gives a shit. “No-one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust,” he told BBC Breakfast. At one moment midway through the debate, Johnson confidently declared that “the truth matters”. Clearly not.

THE AUDIENCE BOOED THE MENTION OF THE WORLD’S POOREST SUFFERING AS A RESULT OF CLIMATE CHANGE

There was an uncomfortable moment when Corbyn put forward the idea that it was the world’s poorest who will suffer the most from the effects of climate change. “It is the most massive issue facing the whole world,” he said. “When the poorest people in the poorest countries lose out because of flooding and unusual weather patterns, when we have unusual weather patterns in this country, when we have extreme weather pollution, we have to have a green industrial revolution.”

The Tory supporters in the crowd jeered, with one man heckling “here we go”. It felt representative of the worldview that’s been cultivated by the Tories during the Brexit wilderness years, and further back. No-one else matters, we’re Great Britain – put the borders up, the kettle on, and fuck everyone else.

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE NHS?

Corbyn whipped out a document procured via the Freedom of Information Act with all the contents redacted, something Corbyn claimed as evidence of Johnson being ready to sell off the NHS to US corporations, or “big pharma”. Unfortunately, the camera work wasn’t nimble enough to get a proper look, but the moment made Corbyn’s position clear – Johnson is a danger to our healthcare service, and he used every opportunity he could to make that known. Johnson denied it, claiming that under no circumstances would the NHS be for sale.

THERE WERE POLARISING OPINIONS ON THE MONARCHY

In light of The Worst Interview Ever Seen taking place over the weekend, in which Prince Andrew reimagined the concept of the car crash, the two party leaders were asked what they thought of the monarchy. “Room for some improvement,” said Corbyn with a smirk, before going on to extend his sympathy to Jeffrey Epstein’s victims. Johnson, who was suspected of lying to the Queen over his reasoning for proroguing Parliament and so might be on the naughty step at Bucks Pal, simply said that “the monarchy is beyond reproach” – doughballs waiting for you backstage Boris?

A CONCLUSION... OF SORTS

In truth, it was a fairly turgid, lowkey affair, with both leaders sticking to the script. A YouGov poll on “who won” put Johnson at 51 per cent and Corbyn at 49 per cent, a result that the Labour team will be happy with given Johnson’s overall popularity. Neither had any slip-ups that were too galling, though Corbyn could have used several opportunities to highlight Johnson’s track record for lying and the ensuing Jennifer Acuri affair scandal, along with the Tories’ own record on racism. But the most revealing part of the debate came right at the close, when Corbyn laid out a vision for the country’s future, and Johnson used his closing segment to attack the opposition. If this was a battleground of ideas, Johnson came off looking weak. Of course, it doesn’t matter who “wins” a TV debate – December 12 is the date where it counts. Register to vote if you’ve not done so already, and make your voice heard.