Last night, the anticipated Leaders’ Debate took place between Conservative Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, as they went head-to-head in preparation for the 12th December general election.
From the NHS to Brexit to climate change, both Johnson and Corbyn were quizzed on an array of topics and given the opportunity to set the record straight. Yet, despite the audience drawing attention to a variety of issues, Johnson appeared stuck on the same track, responding with repetitive, robotic soundbites relating solely to Brexit and Corbyn’s personal stance on the European Union.
Even when comparing their opening statements, Johnson’s narrow focus and priority was made clear. Corbyn, immediately acknowledging the importance of reaching an agreement on Brexit, stated that Labour would ‘get Brexit sorted by giving you, the people, the final say and implement whatever you decide’.
However, he then went on to highlight the many overlooked yet pressing concerns plaguing the nation: ‘Too many families are without a proper home, struggling to make ends meet, while tax cuts are handed to the super-rich. We can do better than this.’
Johnson appeared stuck on the same track, responding with repetitive, robotic soundbites relating solely to Brexit.
Johnson, on the other hand, attempted to steer every answer he gave to Brexit – refusing to provide clarification on alternative concerns. When asked by a member of the audience, ‘How can this nation trust you to have the personal integrity and individual strength of character to look after our country’s interests, rescue us from this mess, and bring us back together?’, Johnson’s response swayed, again, towards the need to ‘get Brexit done’.
Corbyn, instead, examined the individual’s question on trust: ‘Trust is something that has to be earned and as a public representative, you have to listen to the people that elected you in the first place and you have to listen to people all over the country in all walks of life […] be they chief executives, workers, people sweeping the street or the homeless. My style of leadership is to listen to people and try to bring consensus together’.
“Too many families are without a proper home, struggling to make ends meet, while tax cuts are handed to the super-rich.”
Interrogating the two further, ITV presenter Julie Etchingham asked ‘Does the truth matter in this election?’. Johnson, unintentionally provoking laughter in the audience, responded ‘I think it does’, before continuing to discuss his Brexit ‘deal’. Despite being interrupted by the presenter who rightly pressed, ‘It’s not just about Brexit though, is it Mr Johnson?’, this fixation dominated his responses throughout the entire debate.
Corbyn highlighted clear contradictions in Johnson’s proposal that he would build ’40 new hospitals’ for the NHS, arguing that these misleading claims were in fact in regard to ‘six reconfigurations without any clarity as to where they’re actually going to be’. Johnson stuttered in response that he would in fact be completing ‘twenty upgrades’ before admitting that ‘yes, it is true that we are starting with six’ but that ‘the investment is going in now’.
Johnson then suggested that the ‘single biggest threat to our economy and our ability to fund the NHS is our failure to get Brexit done’ – not only diverting the conversation, again, to Brexit but also attempting to ignore years of Tory austerity which has resulted in detrimental cuts to public services.
“The levels of dislocation and poverty in so many areas of Britain – deliberately because of austerity – must and will change”
When asked directly if both leaders would pledge to end austerity, Corbyn confirmed: ‘We will end austerity, I’m absolutely clear about that’ before going on to explain that, ‘The reality of austerity has been to hit the funds of local authorities, has meant the life chances of children have been damaged by under-funding schools […] The levels of dislocation and poverty in so many areas of Britain – deliberately because of austerity – must and will change’.
Johnson answered with ‘Of course, and I believe in investing massively in our public services because we support a dynamic, wealth-creating sector. That’s why it’s a good idea to believe in business, to support businesses’, despite his party being responsible for consistent cuts to public services and funding for almost a decade.
One topic left off the agenda was immigration, however ImmiNews has reported on both Labour’s and the Conservatives’ proposed immigration policies. It is worth noting, though, that the subject of austerity and immigration was broached by a BBC Question Time audience member who challenged Nigel Farage last night during the programme’s first Election 2019 Leaders Special.
Acknowledging the ability to manipulate public anger, the audience member argued: ‘How on earth can you understand what it is like for the 14 million people in this country who are currently living in poverty? That poverty is caused by austerity – it’s not about immigration or the EU – it’s about austerity.
‘People are angry because the government has made a conscious decision to cut the funding to public services and then what you’ve done really well is you’ve swooped in and you’ve exploited that anger.’
Holding the government and right-wing politicians to account for their conscious scapegoating of migrants is long overdue. Hopefully, those who watched the Leaders’ Debate and/or BBC Question Time last night will recognise the undeniable link between the nation’s suffering and the government’s unnecessary austerity measures.
We are in need of real change.
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