Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn go Head-to-Head in First Debate of General Election 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses for a photo wearing boxing gloves emblazoned with "Get Brexit Done" during a stop in his General Election Campaign trail at Jimmy Egan's Boxing Academy on November 19, 2019 in Manchester, England. Britain goes to the polls on Dec.12. …
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The Conservative and Labour leaders are taking part in the first debate of the 2019 snap general election, going head to head after a campaign that has already seen blows traded over immigration, the economy, and Brexit.

Update 2140 — Who won?

A common criticism of debates is they don’t change minds and generally, people walk away believing the candidate won who they were supporting in the first place. Regardless, the first snap poll seems to suggest no clear winner, YouGov giving it 51-49, within the margin of error.

A clearer picture will emerge in the coming days.

Update 2120 — and just like that, Fact Check UK vanishes

Having set themselves up as FactcheckUK for an hour, CCHQ Press has now got their normal branding back. But not before declaring who, in their view, won tonight’s debate:

Update 2120 — Closing statement

PM Johnson warns of another “Groundhog Year” without Brexit under a Labour government.

In his closing statement on Tuesday night’s debate, Mr Johnson said that Corbyn had failed to come clean over Labour’s and his position on Brexit.

“Our choice is very simple. We can get Brexit done or we can spend another Groundhog Year with another referendum with Mr Corbyn, who you’ve heard tonight, cannot answer the fundamental question: Is he for Remain or Leave?” Johnson said.

He added that if Corbyn cannot answer that question tonight, “I don’t think he’s fit to lead our country.

“Let’s end the dither and delay, the deadlock. If we have a majority 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 January 31st, we will go forward as a united and confident nation that has shown our faith in the judgement of our people.”

Update 2057 — What would you give your opponent for Christmas? 

An amusing question to round the evening off — an audience member asks both leaders what they would leave under the Christmas tree for their opponent. Mr Corbyn goes first, making a sly dig at Johnson by saying he would leave him a copy of Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens — obliquely calling him a Scrooge.

Mr Johnson on the other hand, continues to hit the Brexit button he’s been hammering all night, saying he’d leave Mr Corbyn a copy of the new Brexit deal — implying his opponent hadn’t written it. Pressed for a non-political gift, the Prime Minister settled on a jar of damson jam.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn shake hands during the ITV Leaders Debate at Media Centre on November 19, 2019 in Salford, England. (Photo by Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images)

Update 2055 – Johnson mocks Corbyn’s “money forest” spending plans

Both party leaders have made spending pledges, and when asked by ITV presenter Julie Etchingham if Mr Johnson had found a “Magic Money Tree” to pay for his pledged spending projects, the prime minister gestured to Corbyn and said, “Money Forest, he’s got.”

Boris continued in that the Conservatives’ spending plan is possible because “we’re operating in strict fiscal discipline”, saying that the Conservatives can invest in the NHS, policing, and education “because we have the fiscal headroom to do so”.

He also said the Tories will do “fantastic things” with infrastructure including high-speed rail and telecommunications. “We can only do that if interest rates are low, and the rate at which Labour would borrow would push up interest rates for every household in the country.”

During the debate, Mr Corbyn had said that he would increase corporation tax, abolish university tuition fees, and bring the UK down to a four-day working week without loss of pay or productivity.

The prime minister warned voters: “Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have actually said they want to overthrow capitalism and to destroy the basis of wealth creation in this country. I think that would be disastrous for this country.”

Update 2050 — Conservative dark arts at work

Conservative Central Office isn’t missing a trick on the debate tonight, having temporarily rebranded their press office Twitter account — CCHQPress — as ‘factcheckUK’. Putting out flashy videos with a neutral purple colour scheme confirming Boris Johnson’s proclamations as true and retweeting Tory MPs, if you didn’t look too closely you could have been fooled.

 

Update 2033 — WIll the NHS be for sale after Brexit? 

Corbyn accused the prime minister of having “secret meetings” with the United States to “open up the NHS” and put it at risk. Mr Johnson hit back at the allegation, calling it an “invention” and asserting that “the NHS is not for sale”.

Any claims that the National Health Service was ‘for sale’ were shot down by President Donald Trump on Nigel Farage’s LBC radio show on October 31st. When asked if the NHS would form any part of a future negotiation, President Trump said: “No, not at all. We wouldn’t be involved in that… It’s not for us to have anything to do with your healthcare system. We are just talking about trade.”

President Trump rejected that the NHS would be part of a future UK-U.S. trade deal as far back as June, during a state visit to Britain with Theresa May. He said then: “But I don’t see that as being, that’s something that I would not consider part of trade. That’s not trade.”

Update 2025 — “The way to restore trust in politics is to get Brexit done”

The leaders are asked why the public should trust them. Mr Johnson says without delivering on the promise of the 2016 referendum, there can be no trust.

(Photo by Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images)

Update 2021 — is the Union worth sacrificing for Brexit? 

Another question from the audience on the widespread claims that leaving the European Union could imperil the United Kingdom itself. Mr Johnson uses the opportunity to hit out at both Jeremy Corbyn and the Scottish Nationalists, noting poll ratings that suggest the only way Labour could find its way into power would be with a coalition with the SNP. This, he said, would be the greatest danger to the Union as the Scot Nats would likely insist on a second referendum on Scotland leaving the UK as a price for political support.

“The Union is the most important thing to me”, Boris Johnson retorted.

Rhetoric aside, Mr Johnson is weak on this matter — even die-hard Tory Eurosceptics admit the Brexit deal potentially places a border in the Irish sea.

Update 2009 — Brexit first

We kick off with Brexit — what else. Boris is hitting with his favourite buzz words, saying his deal is “oven-ready” to activate Brexit by January 31st, while accusing Jeremy Corbyn of offering “dither and delay”.

Hitting back at Boris’s undefended flank, Mr Corbyn reminded viewers that Boris Johnson had voted against Theresa May’s deal — which is own is closely based on — twice.

Update 2006 — Opening remarks

The socialist leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn opened the debate by promising that under a Labour government “wealth” as well as “power” will be “shared”. The Remain-voting Opposition leader reiterated his pledge to “sort” Brexit by holding a second referendum, claiming that his government will “implement whatever you decide”.

Update 2003 — Boris and Jeremy enter the ring

The blue and red corners have their fighters. In a feat of spectacular timing, Mr Johnson made a photocall at a boxing gym in Manchester earlier today, ensuring the photo editors of news organisations worldwide have a selection of amusing pictures of him wearing custom Brexit boxing gloves on as their most recent pictures as he steps into the ring for his first bout with Mr Corbyn.

(Nigel Farage did a similar stunt last week, donning special Brexit Party gloves for a play knockabout with boxer Dereck Chisora, so clearly boxing will be a leitmotif for this election)

The next hour will be opening statements by both party leaders, questions from the audience, and closing remarks. Having flipped a coin in advance, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn will go first in both cases.

Update 1945 — Party leaders getting into the spirit of things

Just before things kick off — Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have both made social media posts in the run up to the debate, as you’d expect. Mr Johnson’s is a pseudo-film trailer style clip in slow motion, while Mr Corbyn is showing off his new haircut.

The original story continues below

Who is in the ring, and why?

This debate is a simple two-way bout between the leaders of the two largest political parties in the United Kingdom — Conservative leader Boris Johnson in one corner, and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn in the other.

While there are several other parties contesting this election, ITV — who are hosting tonight’s debate — have elected to go with the two headline candidates, despite the growing importance of second and third rate parties in the post-Brexit referendum era.

This decision has seriously annoyed some, with the Liberal Democrats (anti Brexit, oddly anti-change in many ways despite their headline political reform policies) and the Scottish Nationalist Parties (also anti-Brexit, but also anti-United Kingdom as well) lodging a sensational High Court challenge this week against the broadcaster, to force their way in. Lord Justice Davis refused to rule on the case, finding that it was not appropriate to be heard in the court.

High Court cases at the drop of a hat over any matter pertaining to Brexit have become a popular pass-time for anti-Brexit activists these days — click here to find out more about that. 

Despite losing their case to get involved this time, both parties along with a host of others will be taking part in televised debates on both November 22nd and November 29th.

A Liberal Democrat advertising van drives past the High Court in London as the Liberal Democrats bring an action to the court after being excluded from a General Election leaders debate on November 18, 2019. (Photo by NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

So that leaves the Tories and Labour duking it out. Boris Johnson has been the leader of the Conservative Party and, by dint of it being the largest party in Parliament, Prime Minister in July 2019. Thanks to the disastrous performance of his predecessor Theresa May in the 2017 snap election that she called, Mr Johnson inherited a minority administration unable to pass laws or make progress on Brexit, leading him inevitably to the point of needing to call a general election himself to get a new parliament.

That itself wasn’t as easy as he may have hoped. Jeremy Corbyn held the power over whether an election would actually go ahead, and became the first leader of the opposition in British political history to decline the opportunity to take the government on in a general election.

Aside the policies, and both men clearly have very divergent views on the future of the nation be it on the economy, social matters, and Brexit, it is most likely both will also face audience questions on their personal lives. It is an extremely unusual situation that the United Kingdom does not know officially how many children the Prime Minister has, and the ones he publicly acknowledges are well out of the spotlight, a significant departure from the style of previous Prime Ministers who have put their families forward as part of their political brand.

Mr Johnson’s relationship with women has been under the spotlight, with his moving his girlfriend rather than wife into 10 Downing Street upon taking power, and claims about potential impropriety with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has been through his fair share of marriages, but of greater interest are questions over the extent to which he may or may not shoulder a proportion of the blame for Labour’s endless round of antisemitism scandals, which seem to have come from nowhere to becoming a party-defining issue since he became leader. The Jewish Chronicle took the extraordinary step earlier this month to use its whole front page to call on its readers to abandon the Labour party over antisemitism.

But why are we having debates at all? They are a comparatively new, but reasonably well-established part of the British political process now, having made the leap from the United States in 2010. They have been regular features since, helping frame the debate in the run-up to subsequent general elections, the Brexit referendum, and remarkably even the Conservative leadership election.

The Tory leadership debates won prime-time slots on national television despite the actual decision over that being limited to ordinary members of the Conservative Party, of which there are less than 200,000 nationwide.

Tonight’s debate is being hosted by ITV journalist Julie Etchingham — who also hosted one of the Conservative leadership debates earlier this year. Subsequent debates will be hosted by the BBC, Britain’s state broadcaster.

SALFORD, UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 18: In this handout images provided by ITV, Journalist Julie Etchingham poses for a photograph ahead of tomorrow night’s televised debate between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, on November 18, 2019 in Salford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jonathan Hordle/ITV via Getty Images)

 

What are the state of the polls before the debate?

Polling is an imprecise and controversial ‘art’, and pollsters have broadly made a hash of recent crucial elections, including the 2015 general election, 2016 Brexit referendum, and 2017 snap election. Yet in the absence of other information and in eager anticipation of the outcome of the actual election in December the polls remain a popular talking point for the commentariat.

After breaking through the early 40s barrier last week, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have been consistently in the 42-45 range since. Indeed, the largest recent poll with 2,010 people interviewed — not huge against a potential voting population of something like 45 million — puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trialling ten points behind at 32. 

This isn’t necessarily as promising as it initially sounds. Theresa May won 42 per cent in 2017, for instance, and lost control of Parliament. As always, the election will be less about national vote share and more about the distribution of votes in key seats — this is truer than ever these days, with multiple small parties sniping away at the established forces.

Regardless, the state of the polls tomorrow as voters react to the respective performance of Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson tonight will be eagerly pounced upon as an indication of the direction of travel.

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