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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn ended their first head-to-head election debate on Tuesday as the Labour leader seeks to reverse the prime minister’s double-digit lead in the polls. The prime minister kept trying to steer the conversation to Brexit, and drew laughter at different points. Meanwhile, his rival took a shot against the monarchy and got cheered for his defense of the state-owned National Health Service.
A snap YouGov poll of 1,600 people gave Johnson the narrowest victory, with 51% saying he won, against 49% saying Corbyn performed bestICM/Reuters poll puts Conservatives on 42% (+3), Labour 32% (+1), Liberal Democrats 13% (-2), Brexit Party 5% (-3).ssss
Conservatives Masqueraded as Fact Checkers (10:21 p.m.)
The Conservative Press Office changed its Twitter account’s name and appearance during the debate to “factcheckUK”, which described itself as an organization “Fact-checking Labour from CCHQ.” It then tweeted messages including “FACT: Jeremy Corbyn has failed to say what his own Brexit position is on Brexit nine times so far in this debate.” They culminated with a “factcheckUK verdict: Winner, Boris Johnson.”
The move outraged genuine fact-checking sites, with FullFact calling it “inappropriate and misleading.” But Conservative Chairman James Cleverly defended it. “We are calling out the stuff that Labour is putting into the public domain that is demonstrably wrong,” he said.
Swinson Makes Pitch for Middle Ground (10:15 p.m.)
Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said her party represents the views of most British people better than Labour and the Conservatives. Swinson was upset about not to be invited to the earlier debate and instead was only featured in a later interview with the leaders of other small parties.
“You have very extreme candidates leading those parties at the moment taking them to the fringes of politics,” she said. “Those parties are not in a space where most people in Britain are.”
Swinson also reiterated how she would not give either Corbyn or Johnson the support to become prime minister, even if it meant the country would need another election to find a working government.
Closing Remarks Wrap Up the Hour of Debate (9:04 p.m.)
In his closing remarks, Corbyn called on the public to focus on his party’s strong areas of NHS, the environment and higher investment. “This is a once-in-a-generation election: to end privatization and give the NHS the funding it needs, to give the people a final say on Brexit, to tackle the climate emergency which threatens our futures, and to invest in good jobs in every region and nation of our country,” he said.
“Vote for hope and vote for Labour on the 12th of December.”
As he did throughout the debate, Johnson used his closing remarks to return to familiar territory: his promise to get Brexit done by the end of January. “The choice is very simple: we can get Brexit done or we can spend another year with another referendum,” he said.
“If we have a working majority Conservative government, I pledge we will have a Parliament that works for you, that focuses on the NHS and the cost of living, because when we get Brexit done by Jan. 31 we will go forward.”
Christmas Presents to Each Other (8:53 p.m.)
The candidates are asked what they would leave under the Christmas tree to each other.
Corbyn draws applause for his answer: “I know Mr Johnson likes a good read. So what I’d probably leave for him is ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens so he could then understand how nasty Scrooge was.”
Johnson tried yet again to shift the conversation to Brexit by suggestion Corbyn read his EU deal.
Corbyn Says Monarchy Needs to ‘Improvement’ (8:45 p.m.)
Asked by the host, Julie Etchingham, if the royal family is fit for purpose following revelations over Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Corbyn managed a pithy response that drew laughter. “It needs a bit of improvement,” Corbyn said. Johnson, by contrast, said “the institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach.” He said Epstein’s victims should be “the focus of everyone’s sympathies.” That sounded like another veiled criticism of Prince Andrew but didn’t pack the same punch as Corbyn’s answer.
Audience Laughed at the Candidates (8:34 p.m.)
The audience of voters in the studio laughed ironically when Johnson said that the truth matters in the election. Johnson hit back, saying he was “open-mouthed” about Corbyn’s denial of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. They also had a giggle at Corbyn’s expense when the question was raised on whether he had a clear position on Brexit.
There was more cackling later on when the funding of the NHS returned as a topic. Johnson: “We will continue to fund the NHS massively as we are. We can only do so because we have a strong and dynamic economy.”
Is Austerity Over? (8:45 p.m.)
Corbyn took a question about how much his government would spend to speak of the austerity years, and committed to reducing corporation tax to 2010 levels. “We’ve had austerity for 9 years in this country, we’ve had a growth of billionaires in this country, we’ve had a growth of extreme poverty in this country,” he said. “This election is a turning point in the way in which going to we’re going to manage our economy in the future. We will end austerity.”
Johnson was quick to interrupt and proclaim his own desire to spend more than previous governments. “I believe in investing massively in our public services,” he said.
Arms Race of Election Pledges Comes Too Late for Many in U.K.
Corbyn Responds to Criticism of Anti-Semitism (8:29 p.m.)
Corbyn has been dogged by criticism for allowing the rise of anti-Semitism within Labour. As the debate reached the half-way mark the Labour leader responded by saying that “antisemitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society” and that “we do take this very seriously indeed because I do not want to live in a society where racism is rife.” Johnson tried to shift the the topic back to Brexit rather than address the moderator’s question about whether the tone in politics had degenerated.
Will There Be Another Vote on Scottish Independence? (8:19 p.m.)
Johnson repeatedly claimed that a Corbyn government would usher in a second referendum on Scottish independence because Labour would rely on Scottish National Party support to form a government. Corbyn insisted he hadn’t done any deals with the SNP “and there will be no deals,” he said, adding “There would be no deal with the SNP, no support for a referendum in the early years of a Labour government.” Johnson said that didn’t amount to a denial.
Johnson and Corbyn Trade Blows on Brexit and NHS (8:13 p.m.)
Johnson tries time and time again to draw Corbyn into revealing where he stands on Brexit: “We don’t know on what side Mr Corbyn will campaign. Is he going to campaign for leave or remain?”
Corbyn defied the prime minister over his pledge to get Brexit done within a matter of weeks: “When you say you want to get it done, you will have to embark on probably seven years of negotiations with the U.S. to complete a trade deal.”
Then the debate shifted to the state-owned National Health Service, much-beloved by voters. Corbyn told Johnson: “You’re going to sell our NHS to the United States and big pharma.”
“Our NHS will never be for sale,” Johnson replied.
Both Men Began with Short Introductory Remarks (8:06 p.m.)
Corbyn and Johnson kicked off the debate with their key messages.“People want to get Brexit done and to unleash the potential of this entire country,” Johnson said, arguing that a vote for Corbyn is a vote for “dither and delay and deadlock.” He later added that his deal could pass Parliament within a “few weeks”
“We will build a fairer Britain that cares for where wealth and power are shared,” Corbyn told a live studio audience. “Too many families are without a proper home struggling to make ends meet while tax cuts are handed to the super-rich.”
A Brief History of U.K. Election Debates (7:45 p.m.)
Unlike in the U.S., televised election debates are still relatively new to U.K. politics, with details on how many candidates are invited to take the stage a point of dispute in each campaign.
It started in 2010, with then-prime minister Gordon Brown taking on Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, whose success gave rise to a wave of so-called “Cleggmania” and an immediate poll bounce.
In 2015, there was one seven-way debate featuring not only the original three parties but also UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Labour leader Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron to “debate me one-on-one”, but failed to get his wish.
In 2017, the BBC eventually hosted a seven-way debate featuring Corbyn, but Theresa May decided to send then-home secretary Amber Rudd in her place.
This campaign has proved no less eventful. The Lib Dems and the SNP lost a legal challenge against ITV on Monday over their exclusion from tonight’s event. The broadcaster had warned it would cancel the debate on Tuesday if the politicians had won.
Debate Format: All You Need to Know (7:40 p.m.)
Tonight’s hour-long TV debate is being held in Salford, north-west England, in front of a studio audience of around 200 people.
ITV journalist Julie Etchingham will moderate, having hosted similar debates in the 2015 and 2017 general elections. Etchingham also took charge of the Conservative party leadership debate this summer, featuring Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
Questions will come from viewers, with ITV saying they will reflect a range of political backgrounds. Both leaders will have a minute to make their opening statements, and then 45 seconds for their closing remarks at the end of the debate. Corbyn will speak first in both instances after lots were drawn.
The debate will be followed at 10 p.m. by interviews with leaders from the smaller parties. The Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson, the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon, the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage and co-leader of the Green Party Sian Berry will all feature in the consecutive face-to-face interviews.
Corbyn and Johnson Prepare for Battle (5 p.m.)
Both the main party leaders are keen to be seen preparing for tonight’s head-to-head TV debate in their own ways. Johnson visited a boxing gym and posted a photo of himself on his Instagram account wearing a pair of boxing gloves, each emblazoned with “Get Brexit Done.”
Corbyn, meanwhile, struck a more relaxed pose, posting a video of himself leaning back in a barber’s chair as he received a beard-trim. Time will tell whether the Labour leader’s fresh cut or his opponent’s hard-man impression will help win over voters.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Corbyn told Sky News. Asked if he was nervous, he replied “not in the slightest, why would I be?”
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--With assistance from Tim Ross, Jessica Shankleman, Thomas Penny and Robert Hutton.
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