The first face-off between Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was hosted by ITV on Tuesday evening, seeing the two party leaders take part in a two-way debate, a potential turning point for the election campaign.
The Labour leader arrived first at Media City in Salford, telling reporters and supporters waiting outside that "I am loving every minute of it".
"I am utterly, utterly determined that we are going to win this election to make life better for those that have suffered so much under austerity", he said.
Just hours before the TV debate kicked off, Johnson penned a letter to Corbyn with a list of four questions to answer regarding the latter's Brexit policy, a subject Johnson claims Corbyn has evaded.
Sticking with accusations that Johnson's Brexit deal would see the NHS penetrated and sold off to US corporations, Corbyn told Johnson: "You are going to sell our National Health Service out to the United States and Big Pharma."
The most piercing attack came when Corbyn pulled out what he claimed were redacted documents of "a series of secret meetings" between London and Washington, which read that there would be "full market access for US products to our NHS".
Jeremy Corbyn reveals a document that shows the Tories held secret negotiations to open up our NHS markets to the Americans.— Ben Claimant 💚 (@imajsaclaimant) November 19, 2019
"You're gonna sell out the NHS to the United States and big pharma."#GE2019 #LeadersDebate #WinForCorbyn 🌹 pic.twitter.com/a00mQOq839
Corbyn pointed to low A&E performance under the conservative government and "4 million waiting for operations" and pledged to end privatisation in the internal market.
The incumbent prime minister said that he wanted to "put this to rest", that there would be "no circumstances" where the NHS is on the table in any trade agreement.
Johnson then claimed that the government would build 40 new hospitals, but hedged the claim by warning that a fully-funded NHS - the only way the hospitals would be built - requires a "strong and dynamic economy".
Austerity and the Economy
While both leaders pledged to end austerity, Corbyn slammed the Conservative record, citing a "growth of extreme poverty" and personal debt due to increase costs.
The Labour leader pledged to invest in services and protect the NHS, declaring that the economy should work "for the many not the few".
Corbyn outlined an expansive list of policies, including "an increase in wages, living wage, an end to zero hours contracts" and an investment strategy in manufacturing jobs funded by increases in corporate tax.
Johnson accused Corbyn of wanting to "overthrow capitalism" and threatened that Labour would require a "money forest" to pay for their pledges before promising to shelve his plan to cut corporate tax.
"I believe in investing in our public services, support business and the wealth creating sector," Johnson said before quickly attempting to turn the subject back to Brexit.
"The single biggest threat is our failure to get Brexit done".
In Johnson's favourite policy of the night, he repeatedly claimed to have an "oven-ready deal" which "delivers everything we wanted from Brexit".
He appealed to his "oven-ready" deal and that, once delivered, a Tory majority government would end the "deadlocked parliament" and "unleash the potential of this entire country".
.@BorisJohnson "There's only one reason why we're having this election, and that is that we have a deadlocked parliament that will not deliver Brexit, and whether you voted for Leave or Remain, people want to get Brexit done, and to unleash the potential of this entire country." pic.twitter.com/peYuFaFsCa— BrexitCentral (@BrexitCentral) November 19, 2019
Johnson claimed that a Labour government would "dither and delay under a Corbyn/Sturgeon coalition" which could see new referendums both on UK EU membership and on Scottish independence.
"We don't know on which side Mr Corbyn will campaign. Will he campaign for Leave or Remain?" Johnson asked, describing the issue as a "void at the heart of his policy".
After each topic, Johnson attempted again and again to bring back the conversation back to Brexit, eventually becoming the recipient of audible groans from the audience.
Corbyn outlined his Brexit policy by noting that Labour would negotiate a final say with a "credible leave option" against the option to remain and would implement whatever is decided.
The Labour leader attacked claims that the deal proposed by Johnson's government would get Brexit done, pointing out instead that it would be the beginning of "a trade deal with the US that would take 7 years to negotiate".
Corbyn called Johnson's Brexit offer "worse than Theresa May's deal" and noted that it would be unable to protect jobs.
"We must maintain a firm and good trading relationship with Europe", he said.
Boris Johnson just used a debate watched by millions of people to repeat one single sentence.— Green New Deal Now Blakeley (@graceblakeley) November 19, 2019
Jeremy Corbyn talked about the importance of listening to the people you represent.
One treats voters like they’re idiots - the other wants to hand power in this country back to them.
Trust and Antisemitism
Johnson again argued that a lack of trust in politics was due to the Parliament refusing to honour and implement his version of Brexit.
Corbyn said that he would "listen to people and try to bring consensus", echoing declarations to bring the country together over Brexit.
When asked about the allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, Corbyn branded it "evil" and promised to fight "racism in "any form."
Johnson said that the issue demonstrates a "failure of leadership", and once again attempted to highlight what he referred to as Labour's "lack of leadership" on Brexit.
Moderator Julie Etchingham asked the two to "make a gesture" and change the debate tone and shake hands, to which they both obliged.
Unproven accusations of antisemitism have plagued the Labour party since Corbyn's 2015 election. Johnson has been widely denounced as untrustworthy over his past infidelities, as well as the prorogation of parliament in September, which was found to be unlawful by the UK Supreme Court.
The question of whether the monarchy was fit for purpose was posed to the two leaders.
"It needs a bit of improvement", Corbyn answered.
Johnson claimed that "The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach".
The question then quickly turned to The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, who has been accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl and several documented instances of involvement with deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and .
"Before we discuss Prince Andrew we should discuss the victims", Corbyn said. "Nobody should be above the law."
Johnson suggested that "the law must certainly take its course."
Highlighting Labour's umbrella issue of a "Green Industrial Revolution", Corbyn pledged to "invest in the future, to prevent the continuing damage to our environment".
The Labour leader noted that climate change affects the "very poorest areas of the world are suffering", in response to which a member of the audience yelled: "Oh here we go".
Johnson described climate change as an "issue for the entire world" and stated that the UK would become carbon neutral by 2050, but that doing so would require the government to "get Brexit done to deliver on those priorities".
Following the debate, polling showed a neck and neck result with 51 percent saying that the prime minister had won and 49 pefrcent saying that the opposition leader won.
On who performed best in tonight's ITV debate:— Britain Elects (@britainelects) November 19, 2019
Boris Johnson: 51%
Jeremy Corbyn: 49%
A separate snap poll gave Corbyn a significant edge over Johnson, with 67 percent of respondents saying he did "well" in the debate, and 59 percent saying the prime minister did well.
For a sitting prime minister ahead in the national opinion polls, a 2-percent victory is nothing to be confident about. However, a tie for the Labour leader means it may not have been the game-changing performance he needed to turn the race around.
Election debates do not often change election results, with the exception of 2010, when former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's performance saw the emergence of "Cleggmania" and ultimately a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government with Clegg as the deputy PM.