Column: A Riveting Duel

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: The focus during elections in this country is always on TV debates. No wonder the first TV debate between Tory leader, Boris Johnson, who is seeking a fresh term as Prime Minister, this time with a clear majority, and his main rival, Labour boss, Jeremy Corbyn has hogged much media attention.

Most newspapers here have covered the debate prominently alongwith the instant poll that showed Johnson winning the first round by the narrowest of margins. The YouGov survey, conducted among viewers during the broadcast on ITV, showed the Prime Minister winning by 51 to 49 against Corbyn who has proved himself to be a tough challenger.

Brexit, predictably, was one of the major issues over which the two leaders clashed with Johnson accusing his rival of ‘absurd dither and delay.’ The Labour leader on the other hand taunted Johnson for promising a quick departure from the European Union with negotiations having already dragged on for years.

While Johnson repeatedly vowed to get Brexit done and sought to provoke his rival into committing himself on either Leave or Remain if voted to power, Corbyn refused to rise to the bait and simply said that he would put the question to the people.

Johnson said: ‘If you vote for us, we have a deal ready to go, approved by every one of our 635 Conservative election candidates. As soon as we get that deal through parliament, as we can in the next few weeks, we can get on with the people’s priorities.’

To this Corbyn retorted that the Prime Minister could not deliver on what he was promising. ‘That idea that Boris Johnson’s deal can be dealt with and finished by the end of January is such nonsense,’ he said.

Corbyn produced what he said was a ‘heavily redacted’ transcript of government trade talks promising full market access for US firms to the National Health Service (NHS) but Johnson insisted that he would not put NHS ‘up for sale’ under any circumstances.

The debate also touched the sensitive issue of Prince Andrew’s alleged links to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein which has sparked a major controversy. Asked by the host if they thought the monarchy was fit for its purpose the two leaders came up with almost diametrically opposite dreplies. While Corbyn thought ‘it needs a bit of improvement’ the Prime Minister insisted that ‘the institution of monarchy is beyond reproach.’

Neither of the two leaders, who resolved to work together to tackle ‘nastiness in politics’, could claim a knock-out blow but did not either make an election-losing gaffe. Speaking afterwards, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said, ‘There is no doubt Jeremy Corbyn is a better debater than Boris Johnson,’ but added that on the key issue of Brexit the Labour leader would not commit himself on whether he would vote Leave or Remain in a second referendum. ‘That is a failure of leadership,’ he remarked.

Commenting on the debate a respected columnist wrote in the Evening Standard, “ What is worse than two bald men arguing over a comb? Two combs arguing over a bald man? At the end of last night’s ITV leaders’ debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, I found myself certain only of this: neither man is up to the job of prime minister; and Julie Etchingham, who moderated the exchange with calm rigour, would be better than both.”

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)