NEWS
20/11/2019 9:35 AM AEDT

Election Debate: Johnson And Corbyn Fail To Land Knockout Blow In ITV Clash

YouGov snap poll found public split down the middle on who should be prime minister.

Neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn emerged as the clear winner of the first televised leaders’ debate of the UK’s general election, a snap poll found. 

The two clashed over Brexit, the NHS and, in the wake of Prince Andrew’s car crash interview, the monarchy, but each failed to land a knockout blow on their opponent. 

A quick-fire poll by YouGov after the ITV show recored a near-draw, with 51% of Britons believing Johnson won the debate compared to 49% for the Labour leader. 

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Corbyn dismissed the PM’s pledge to “get Brexit done” by the end of January as “nonsense” while Johnson suggested his rival was “not fit to lead our country”.

The Labour leader turned up the pressure on the PM over the NHS, accusing Johnson’s government of entering into secret talks with the US to open up the service to American pharmaceutical companies in a future trade deal.

He also underlined how the NHS in England had recorded its worst A&E waiting times ever in October as he told the story of a “friend of mine” who died while waiting eight hours in one hospital. 

Corbyn said: “The day before she had gone to hospital at the recommendation of her GP in order to get urgent treatment. She waited eight hours, the nurses that were trying to help her were unable to get anyone to see her because they were under such strain and stress.

“And so she recorded a video saying ‘please, in my memory, make sure nobody else goes through this pain’. We’ve got to fund our NHS properly and fill the vacancies and make sure it’s there for all time.”

Other snap poll stats from YouGov

Who came across as more trustworthy?

40% Johnson, 45% Corbyn (15% don’t know)

Who came across as more likeable?

54% Johnson, 37% Corbyn (10% don’t know)

Who came across as more in touch with ordinary people?

25% Johnson, 59% Corbyn (16% don’t know)

Who do you think came across as more prime ministerial?

54% Johnson, 29% Corbyn (17% don’t know)

Who do you think performed best on Brexit questions?

63% Boris, 27% Corbyn (10% don’t know)

Who do you think performed best on NHS questions?

38% Johnson, 54% Corbyn (8% don’t know)

Who do you think performed best on questions about government spending?

50% Johnson, 35% Corbyn (15% don’t know)

Johnson described the NHS as the “one of the single most beautiful and brilliant things” and turned his fire on Labour plans to introduce a four-day working week

“What could be more ruinous for the NHS than a crackpot plan for a four-day week, which would add massively to the burdens not just of the NHS but of every public service in the country?,” he said. 

Denouncing the US-UK trade deal claims as “an absolute invention”, Johnson insisted the Tories would invest more in the health service as he tried to shift the focus onto Labour’s Brexit policy. 

He claimed Corbyn was trying to disguise the “void” at the heart of his Brexit policy and repeatedly called on the Labour leader to make plain whether he would back Leave or Remain in any second referendum. 

He also accused Corbyn of being prepared to strike a deal with Nicola Sturgeon for a second Scottish independence referendum in order to get the votes he needs to enter No 10. 

“Mr Corbyn, you’ve heard tonight, cannot answer the fundamental questions. Is he for Remain or Leave and what price would he pay to secure Nicola Sturgeon’s support to enter Number 10?

“If he can’t answer those questions tonight, I don’t think he’s fit to lead our country.”

Both leaders pledged to invest in public services and increase government spending. 

Corbyn said: “We will end austerity, I am absolutely clear about that because it is so brutal on the lives of so many people.”

Johnson said: “I believe in spending, investing massively in our public services because we support… a dynamic wealth-creating sector.”

The pair were also asked whether the monarchy was fit for purpose, after a wave of criticism of Prince Andrew. 

Corbyn replied the monarchy “needs a bit of improvement while Johnson said “the institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach”, a line which Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson was quick to respond to on Twitter. 

Asked if the Duke of York himself was fit for purpose, Corbyn said: “Before we discuss Prince Andrew I think we should discuss the victims that are there because of what [Jeffrey] Epstein was doing.

“I think there are very, very serious questions that must be answered and nobody should be above the law, but the primary position ought to be the proper treatment of those people who were victims of the most appalling behaviour by apparently Epstein and many others.”

Johnson said “all our sympathies” should be with the victims of Epstein, adding: “The law must certainly take its course.”

Corbyn was pressed over his party’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints within Labour. He said the party takes the issue “very, very seriously indeed, adding: “Anti-Semitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society.” 

Johnson, meanwhile, was asked about “telling the truth in politics”. 

It came as the fact-checking organisation Full Fact laid into the Conservatives for changing their Twitter handle to “factcheckUK” for the ITV debate.

It tweeted: “It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate.

Johnson drew laughs from the crowd as he said the truth “is important”, before trying to change the subject, saying: “It’s a complete failure of leadership what’s happened with anti-Semitism, but the failure of leadership is even worse when you look at what is happening on their Brexit policy.”

But despite the heated exchanges, the two rivals acknowledged the febrile atmosphere surrounding political debate and agreed to shake hands and work together to tackle “nastiness in politics”.

Before their closing remarks, the prime ministerial hopefuls were also asked what Christmas presents they would buy for each other.

Corbyn said: “I know Mr Johnson likes a good read, so what I would probably leave under the tree for him would be A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and he could then understand how nasty Scrooge was.”

Responding, Johnson said: “I would probably leave a copy – since you want a literary reference – a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal.”

Pressed by host Julie Etchingham to give a non-political answer, Johnson said: “Mr Corbyn shares my love of plants and trees. I think maybe some damson jam,” to which Corbyn said: “I love damson jam.”