Tonight’s PM Debate. A Guide.

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At 20:00pm, for ninety minutes, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative leader Boris Johnson will face a live studio audience as they will set out why they should be the next Prime Minister after the 12 December poll.

Following an unsuccessful high court bid, the Liberal Democrats and SNP will not be represented on the platform. The ruling was made on Monday.

This is the fourth UK general election featuring televised debates. The first began in 2010 with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Both participants started the election campaign with low overall approval ratings. Tonight’s debate will serve as an opportunity to put that right. The ninety minute programme will also allow the two parties to set out more clearly, a stronger election narrative that extends beyond Brexit.

Boris Johnson

With the debate limited to the two leading candidates for prime minister, Boris Johnson will likely want to appear much more statesmanlike and measured than usual. Expect constant use of the phrases ‘let’s get Brexit done’, ‘coalition of chaos’ (in reference to a possible centre-left coalition deal) and ‘dither and delay’.

Having turned the Conservative Party’s fiscal objectives on its head, Boris Johnson is likely to boast of additional money going into hospitals and schools. In fact, unlike past debates, Labour and the Conservatives will argue not on whether the state should increase spending, but by how much.

A small, yet significant shift in the state of British politics.

This may explain the timing of the Prime Minister’s announcement at the CBI conference yesterday that his party would abandon a corporation tax cut in favour of an additional £6bn for the NHS.

Another key playing card for Boris Johnson is the ongoing issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Although the issue itself is not expected to feature as a main talking point tonight, it is a very cheap and easy shot for the Conservative leader to make and perhaps a difficult one for Jeremy Corbyn to answer.

Jeremy Corbyn

The central objective of the Labour leader tonight will be to question his opponent’s character. In 2017, Corbyn performed relatively well after his last minute appearance at a multi-party BBC debate. Strangely, of the two men, Jeremy Corbyn appears the most at ease in televised debating environments and no doubt, his team will hope this relaxed nature will win over wavering voters.

Corbyn will want to portray Boris Johnson as fundamentally untrustworthy, selfish and reckless. For that reason, expect a focus on the way in which the prime minister shut down parliament earlier this year and his relationship with businessperson Jenniger Arcuri.

Depending on Boris Johnson’s own performance, I am unsure whether the Labour leader will use his time to highlight the flaws of his opponent, or instead, focus on the pros of a Corbyn administration.

The Conservative Party’s message is that Corbyn has much more to lose from a bad night than Boris Johnson due merely to the current state of the opinion polls. But in an election where many party activists, let alone voters, are finding it difficult to find the energy for the fight, the stakes are very high for all.




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