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Johnson and Corbyn face-off in first head-to-head live TV debate

By JONATHAN POWELL | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-11-20 09:22

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy
Corbyn. [Photo/Agencies]

The two main prime ministerial candidates in the upcoming British general election-Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn-were set to debate proposed party policies in their first live television debate on Tuesday evening.

The Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party lost a High Court challenge against broadcaster ITV on Monday that aimed to expand the debate to include their leaders, leaving the Conservative and Labour frontrunners to face-off head-to-head.

Lord Justice Davis and Justice Warby said the case was not suitable for judicial review as the host ITV was not carrying out a "public function" in law by holding the debate.

On Brexit, Johnson is expected to again pledge to pass his negotiated deal before Christmas, while Corbyn in response is expected to explain Labour's plan to renegotiate terms.

Both candidates would focus heavily on the economy with significant investment promises expected. The National Health Service, or NHS, is set to feature prominently, and Johnson hopes his pledges of new spending will resonate with voters. The Labour leader knows viewers might be skeptical about those Conservative claims and is expected to highlight how public services have changed under 10 years of austerity with the Tories in power.

There could be discomfort for the prime minister if he is questioned on two personal issues: his relationship with the United States tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, and how many children he has fathered. For Corbyn, the difficult area would be scrutiny of Labour's record on tackling antisemitism.

Giles Kenningham, a past director of communications with former prime minister David Cameron, told the BBC that Corbyn needed to be "electrifying" and a "game-changer" to overcome his deficit in the opinion polls.

"For the Tories a scrappy affair will do them-something that is forgettable and they can walk away from," he says.

James Mills, a former adviser to Corbyn and to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, said: "You can't win the election from this debate, it's the first one. But you can lose it."

Mills said the pressure is on Johnson as the front runner and Corbyn would seek to avoid personal clashes and focus on "his vision for the country".

Both experts agreed that the parties would be looking for an early "sucker punch" that can be used as a clip on the evening news bulletins, as well as being shared on social media.

Meanwhile, Sky News has invited the Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour party leaders to attend their live TV debate proposed for Nov 28.

So far only Lib Dem head Jo Swinson has accepted the broadcaster's invitation. The BBC confirmed that they will also be holding two debates of their own on Nov 29 and Dec 6, in addition to a series of Question Time specials.


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