POLITICS
06/12/2019 22:18 GMT

5 Key Takeaways From The BBC Election Debate As Boris Johnson And Jeremy Corbyn Clashed

The Tory and Labour leaders went head-to-head for a final time before December 12, with a snap poll giving the PM a 52-48 victory.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head again in what was being billed as the last big chance for the Labour leader to chip away at the prime minister’s poll lead before next week's election.

But after a fairly humdrum hour-long BBC debate the public could barely pick them apart, with YouGov’s snap poll giving the prime minister a 52-48 (yep those numbers again) victory over Corbyn.

Ahead of the December 12 election, the two leaders faced questions from a representative audience with BBC political veteran Nick Robinson ensuring they kept on topic.

Here are five of the key takeaways.



Stilted format

The BBC tried to ramp up the intensity of the debate by facing Johnson and Corbyn’s podiums off with very little distance between them.

But ultimately the format fell somewhat flat as both leaders played it safe and chose not to engage directly with each other.

The audience was a lot more polite than in both the ITV head-to-head debate and Question Time special earlier in the campaign, when leaders faced some rough questioning and were even laughed at.

Robinson did a good job at pulling them up on facts but this was never going to be the kind of forensic examination that the likes of Andrew Neil, who Johnson is refusing to face in an interview, specialise in.

Ultimately, much of the debate descended into the trading of stock party lines and there were calls for a debates commission and American producers to take charge of the TV set pieces at the next election.

 

Racism clash

The most heated moment came, depressingly, when the leaders addressed anti-Semitism in Labour and Islamophobia in the Tory party.

Johnson had one of the best lines of the night when he attacked Corbyn’s “neutral” rules-focused stance on anti-Semitism in Labour, which simultaneously allowed the PM to pivot back to Brexit and his key message.

“You cannot be neutral on questions like this, any more, in my view, than you can try to lead this country and be neutral on the issue of Brexit,” the Johnson said.

“It is a failure to take a stand, to have a point of view, that in the end will cost this country gravely and deeply.”

Corbyn didn’t take it lying down though, attacking Johnson over the “racist remarks” he has made in the past, including saying burka-wearing Muslim women look like “letter-boxes” and “bank robbers”, and referring to Black people as “flag waving piccaninies” with “watermelon smiles”.

Put liars ‘on their knees’

The biggest laugh of the night, and to be honest that is stretching it, came when Johnson suggested politicians who lie should be punished by being made to “go on their knees” through the Commons.

Corbyn meanwhile gave Johnson both barrels over his false claims in the Brexit campaign.

But the question on what sanctions lying politicians should face was a good one, and spoke to a key question being asked by voters in this election: how do we trust the parties’ promises when so many have been broken?

After a debate again littered with misinformation and half-truths, that voter suspicion is not going away any time soon.

 

Socialism v capitalism

One of the more intriguing moments came with a write-in question on whether socialism or capitalism had done a better job of improving living standards in the UK.

Johnson, interestingly in a post-financial crisis world, was not exactly keen portray himself as a “capitalist”, instead stressing his “one nation Conservative” credentials.

Corbyn meanwhile defended democratic socialism, highlighting the contribution it has made in the UK and Scandinavia, and made clear his ambition to repeat the feats of the post-war Attlee government that created the NHS and the welfare state.

For apathetic voters, the exchanges were a reminder that the old charge of “they’re all the same” simply cannot be levelled at the parties in this election.

 

No country for old men

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major made a major intervention in the election campaign on Friday to urge Britons to vote tactically to stop Brexit in the election.

Extraordinarily it meant Major, an ex-Tory PM, urging people to vote against his own party, while Blair effectively advocated voting Liberal Democrat in areas where they are ahead of Labour.

The first question of the day came from John Purcell, who asked whether the ex-PMs interventions were “worrying” for the leaders or whether their predecessors were simply “a couple of old has beens”.

Johnson somewhat took the bait, mocking Major for presiding over Tory disunity over Europe, before Robinson turned the tables back on the PM by pointing out he had in fact purged all the Brexit rebels.