Tuesday 19 November 2019

Johnson V Corbyn: The Verdict

Tweeting yesterday, Guido Fawkes lamented that while the Tories are down in the polls on the same period during the last election, Labour is gathering momentum. Far from killing Jeremy Corbyn's chances, so far Boris Johnson's shown an inability to seal the deal. The opposition were supposed to be hopelessly divided, and with the semi-capitulation of Nigel Farage, getting a majority was supposed to be a formality. And yet here we are, as uncertain this time as last time.

The head-to-head format plays to the political dominance of the two parties. No chance of a third party interloper stealing the show, but it is a risk for Johnson. Lack of detail, bumbling and blustering, hazy and evasive, there is no speaker or Commons convention to save his blushes. And as for Corbyn, he is by now well-practised at these sort of things having not only seen off a plethora of opponents over the years, but was even little troubled by Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman. How then did they fare?

Both men opened with statements they stuck with throughout the debate. For Corbyn this election was about what kind of future you want, and promised a fairer country in which wealth and power is shared. This is versus a decade of Tory failure on health, the environment, the economy, and Brexit. Johnson for his part said we were having this election because of the deadlocked parliament. His priority is to get Brexit done. He has a deal ready to go, which is approved by all 635 Tory candidates (neglecting to mention signing up was a condition for standing), and then get on with other issues people care about. Dither and delay, and two referendums is all Labour offers.

Battle lines drawn, we moved straight into the first question which was about, you guessed it, Brexit. The questioner asked what they could say to reassure her that we won't be talking about this forever? Johnson reiterated his promise that we will come out on 31st Jan, which is in sharp contrast to Labour dither and delay. Corbyn responded that Labour's priority is to negotiate a credible leave option in three months, and then hold a referendum in six. By contrast, far from getting things done it will take seven years to negotiate a trade deal with the USA and years for a new arrangement with the EU. And on delaying matters, Johnson voted against Theresa May's deal twice before spending more time negotiating his own even worse plan. And Johnson's response? All he could do was bang on about how Corbyn would vote in Labour's mooted referendum. Sensibly, Jez refused to be drawn allowing him to reiterate again and again that Labour's policy is a second vote. Johnson might think he came off better in the exchange, but for those flirting with the LibDems in key marginals the Prime Minister gave Corbyn multiple opportunities to tell them what Labour's Brexit policy is. Well done that man.

Asked about whether the Tories would stick to the 2020 deadline for the end of the transition period, Johnson batted away expert concerns - rooted in actual history - and said a trade deal wouldn't take long because we have alignment with the EU already. I'm getting the nostalgia chills. Remember when Johnson's friends said Brexit would be easy? In his response, Corbyn waved about redacted documents concerning UK-US trade deal talks and how they showed American companies would be given full market access to the NHS.

On the union, they were asked if it was worth sacrificing for Brexit. A pertinent question considering the answer from Tory party members is an emphatic yes. Jez said Johnson's deal imperils the union with Northern Ireland by drawing a trade barrier down the Irish Sea. Brazenly dismissing this fact of his actual deal, Johnson argued his deal takes the UK out of the EU together. Whereas the real danger is from a Labour government who would make an arrangement with the SNP and willingly concede another independent referendum for doing so. Corbyn immediately ruled this out, and challenged the SNP not to back Labour's programme at Westminster. And besides, coming back at more repetitive jibes from Johnson, "we've had nine years of chaotic coalitions already".

Then came the question every politician dreads: how can we trust you? Seeing how political debate under their respective leaderships had become so toxic, how can anyone have faith in your integrity and bring us back together? Johnson conceded that trust in politics had corroded, but this is because parliament refusing to honour that promise of implementing the result of the EU referendum, and Labour are actively blocking Brexit. The best way to restore trust is to get it done and move on. Replying, Corbyn said trust is something that has to be earned. Politicians have to listen and good leadership is about listening to people from all kinds of backgrounds and putting their ideas into practice. You measure the character of a leader by how they bring people together, not divide them. Integrity and honesty is a sticky wicket as far as Johnson is concerned, and so he talked about his record: 20,000 extra police officers, upgrading 20 hospitals and building 40 new hospitals (a demonstrable lie), uprating the living wage, getting Brexit sorted. Corbyn replied it was important to be clear about what you plan to do, and so Labour is clear on the EU and all the spending commitments have full costings in the grey book accompanying the manifesto. Therefore, when he was asked about anti-semitism he came across as the passionate anti-racism campaigner he's always been. Johnson on the other hand was asked specifically about truth telling and honesty, and deflected - clumsily - onto the "complete failure in Labour on anti-semitism and Brexit". Luckily for him he was not picked up on this egregious question avoidance.

Asked about the future of the NHS, Jeremy Corbyn talked about his friend, Jayne, who passed away Monday morning. She was admitted and filmed her experience and had to wait eight hours for treatment because no one was available to see her. This is a common experience with stressed staff and lacking facilities. Johnson for his part talked about the NHS, abstractly, as a most brilliant thing. They were putting £34bn in, and were pledged to building 40 hospitals (that lie again ...), a plan for tens of thousands of nurses and 6,000 more GPs. Replying, Corbyn said the NHS was suffering its worst A&E performance ever, was reeling under 33,000 unfilled vacancies, and we've seen the NHS taken to court by billionaires for not handing them health contracts. Johnson pretended innocence by claiming the Tories haven't and wouldn't put the health service up for sale. The Tories will continue to fund it with a strong economy and protect, and nothing would be more ruinous than Labour's plan for a four-day week. Corbyn quickly came back with how a shorter working week, which would apply across society, would actually improve health and wellbeing.

Following a scrappy round on spending, we got quick fire questions. Asked if the monarchy is fit for purpose, Corbyn coyly replied it "needs a bit of improvement". Johnson on the other hand said they were "beyond reproach". On Prince Andrew, Corbyn said that before we spend time talking about him we should be discussing the victims of Epstein's abuse first. Johnson mumbled something about letting the law take its course. On favourite foreign leader, Johnson said the EU27 while Corbyn mentioned António Guterres, the present Secretary General of the UN. And on climate change, Johnson said it was a "colossal issue" and Corbyn said it was a massive issue for everyone. As he started talking about the effects on the poor in the developing world, the Tory-supporting sections of the audience started getting restless and called out. If anything was to help mobilise the green-minded voters ummin and ahhing about voting ...

And that was it. Summing up, Corbyn said you've seen the real choice at this election, and so if you're not registered you should go online and do so now. He said this was a once in a generation election to tackle the climate emergency, create jobs and rebuild industry. "Vote for hope and vote for Labour on !2th December." Johnson agreed the choice was very simple - get Brexit done or vote for a groundhog year. And because Corbyn couldn't answer his questions, it shows he's unfit to be Prime Minister.

In my view, Corbyn performed better because he's simply better versed in this kind of format. But there was nothing there that would have disappointed those set on voting for the Tories. Johnson had a simple script of sticking with Brexit, talking about the (non-existent) strong economy, and rubbishing Labour as ditherers and Brexit frustraters. Johnson certainly made a mistake by allowing Corbyn to put over Labour's supposedly complex Brexit position in terms so simple that even ardent "Corbyn-is-a-Brexiteer" LibDems can understand it.

Was it job done, then? Corbyn will certainly have reminded many who voted Labour in 2017 that, actually, the bloke they had a punt on back then is still the same and cares about the issues they care about. One certainly hope tonight's performance has won many of them back.


Alan Story said...

To win against bluster boy, you need to dent his class confidence. Corbyn didn't. He was poorly coached and came across to much as a policy wonk and seldom showed his warm and personal side.

Tasker Dunham said...

I was disappointed that though Corbyn had the most solid arguments by a long way there seemed to be little to change opinions. He might have been more combative e.g. yet again the "labour ruined the economy" drivel passed without challenge. The one thing, though, is Jayne's truly disturbing hospital video. Thank you for the link because I don't follow twitter. How can anyone see that and not feel angry with this self-serving heartless government? It could and should be a bigotgate moment.

Speedy said...

I agree with Alan - he seemed nice enough, but needed to be a bit nastier and more personal, landing some knock out blows. There were so many open doors, not least when Johnson blamed Labour for blocking Brexit and he could have replied actually Johnson had voted against his own party then punished moderates for doing likewise, coming away with a worse deal than May. He should have hammered home you're not getting the Tory party but UKIP who want to privatise the NHS. Swinson will do so.

He could also have simply explained Johnson's wasn't a deal for the UK but the hard right, and that would be the difference between a Labour and Tory Brexit and whether Labour supported it or not would be down to the deal they struck. yes, it may mean more delay but it is a long future and one party has to act grown up.

He didn't need to get personal to attack his political record, but he needed to show some teeth. Actually I noticed that Epshteen reference too, and thought FFS.

Boffy said...

I didn't bother to watch, and from accounts that seems to have been a sensible decision. The main beneficiaries seem to have been those that did not take part in the debate.

Johnson and the Tories were way ahead before it, and so a draw means its effectively a win for them, as their lead was not changed by it. Both were rightly laughed at by the audience for their incredible positions Johnson on telling the truth, Corbyn on Brexit.

Corbyn once again showed he can't be trusted, however, and will backslide at the first opportunity. So, the lifelong Republican told us that the Monarchy only "requires some improvement". Yes, it requires the same improvement that the French provided for their Monarchy in 1789, and the Russians provided for theirs in 1917.

You really can't trust Corbyn to defend any question of principle.

George Carty said...

Yes, it requires the same improvement that the French provided for their Monarchy in 1789, and the Russians provided for theirs in 1917.

Why mention those rather sanguinary examples, and not (say) Italy in 1946?

If you were me you would have my views said...

"and from accounts that seems to have been a sensible decision"

From accounts being the mainstream media or the people brainwashed by the mainstream media! Boffy's go to source of reliable information, the mainstream, state/billionaire owned and subsidised media!

The media want the old politics back, i.e. where you get Tory whoever you vote for. They hate the fact that at this election we actually get a stark choice between a progressive, bright future and a dystopian nightmare. Just for Boffy's benefit it is Corbyn who represents the progressive bright future.

Politics has never been better, at last as a socialist I get someone who actually reflects my view of the world, or at least more reflects it than the assorted mass murderers, war criminals, sadistic sociopaths and ruling class lackeys that have previously been the choice.

All we got before was one very particular view of the world (an awful one at that), those who hold this awful view still have a choice at this election, i.e. the Tories and those who oppose this particular view now have a genuine different option.

So everyone is a winner, except whoever loses come election day! But if the Tories win then people like speedy can go out and dance in the street because they got exactly what they wanted and those who love Yvette Cooper can dance in the street because they got what they wanted.

And if the Tories do win so what, just business as usual. Corbyn should stay as leader and continue to give us a real choice.

Without Corbyn and a left labour party then mass Hong Kong style civil disobedience is the order of the day, after all with the positive response the mainstream media have given to the astonishingly violent protests in Hong Kong what could they have against us in Britain doing the same....oh wait!

But anyway if the Tories win again and Labour is lost to the Tory lite faction then we need to make this country utterly ungovernable. That should be the goal of the left.

asquith said...

The format didn't help matters as it was too rushed (Etchingham explicitly said once that they needed to get to the ad break!) and I was reminded of why I normally watch the BBC. I'm sure that Boris deliberately went over time so he could be cut off and his supporters could get the idea that this was a left-wing conspiracy against him.

Little of substance or worth was said. I do feel there should be a four-way debate, featuring Jo Swinson & Nigel Farage as well as those two.

Corbyn will probably ground Johnson down if he continues to appear on an equal platform and not to be the bogeyman the right-wing press make him out to be, and the extent to which perceptions shift will affect what happens in the election. Nothing is ruled out now as the Tory complacency is not something that's warranted.