Advertisement

No clear winner in the ITV leaders' debate

ITV leaders' debate Credit: PA

In the world of political operatives, it is said that you need to repeat a message until you're are sick of it. The voters will then get it.

That was clearly Boris Johnson's strategy in the ITV leaders' debate with Jeremy Corbyn.

At the end when he repeated his 'get Brexit done' mantra for the umteeneth time the audience groaned.

The Prime Minister, who hopes to extend his stay in Downing Street, will probably regard that as a victory. It means that he's getting his message over.

That, and the claim that Mr Corbyn had done a deal with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to allow a second Brexit and referendum and one on independence, were Mr Johnson's key messages.

For Mr Corbyn, he wanted to get over his claim that the NHS would be open to privatisation under a Johnson government, with American firms coming into the UK after a deal with Donald Trump.

With Labour seen as strong on the NHS, this was what Mr Corbyn wanted to get over, and in terms of the audience he won warm applause for this.

The Labour leader will regard the fact that Mr Johnson denied it very strongly on several occasions as proof that his claim has got under the Tories' skin.

As expected Scotland featured heavily in the debate, with Mr Johnson mentioning the First Minister, who was not in the debate, on several occasions.

The Prime Minister was able to say he absolutely ruled out a second independence referendum. Mr Corbyn repeated that he would not give consent in the early years of a Labour government.

A 'no' from Johnson, but not a complete 'no' from Corbyn. However, there is a problem for Mr Johnson because only earlier today the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack conceded that a majority for the SNP in Holyrood in 2021 would be a mandate for #indyref2.

Asked which was more important the Union (that is the UK Union) or Brexit, Mr Johnson said simply it was the Union.

Mr Corbyn gave a rather more convoluted answer to that - that he did not want the Union to break up.

The problems for Mr Corbyn came over Brexit. Mr Johnson kept coming back to the Labour leader's position - renegotiate what he says will be a better deal to leave and put that or remain in the EU to a second referendum.

Sorry, this content isn't available on your device.

Mr Corbyn was again unwilling to say what side he would come down on in that referendum. That, Mr Johnson believes, is a weakness and the audience were clearly not impressed. Another Johnson soundbite aimed at Mr Corbyn "dither and delay" hit home.

If the polls are to be believed, they suggest that the Tories are ahead in the UK at least, though that is not the case in Scotland where the SNP lead in the one poll we have had so far.

Mr Corbyn might have hoped this was a game changer, that would give him the boost he needs to narrow that gap. It was not that. He did not falter but he did not triumph either.

Mr Johnson also did not make any big mistakes, though he did appear a bit uncomfortable when he was asked about integrity. He got through, made his points, and got away without making a bad mistake. That for him will seem like a win.

In terms of the impact in Scotland, where the SNP is so strong, and politics is not a two party fight, we will have to wait for more polls. Labour will be hoping Jeremy Corbyn's performance tonight helps them cut through north of the Border.

Disappointing as it may be, there was no clear winner in this debate, which also means there was no clear loser. And not winning big could be seen as a loss for Mr Corbyn.

Nicola Sturgeon waves to supporters in Arbroath. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

After the debate the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon once again repeated her pledge she would not put Mr Johnson or the Tory party, whoever led it, into government.

She then added that she did not want to join a coalition with Labour but would 'drive a hard bargain' to help get them into office.

That would include the right for Scotland to decide it's own future, and that means a second independence referendum, on her timetable of next year. Mr Johnson had said that Labour would not consider giving Westminster consent - required to make a referendum legal - in its early years.

But she also included an end to austerity, a fairer migration policy, and protecting the NHS from what she also argued was the danger of a trade deal with Donald Trump.

So there is a further clear suggestion there that Ms Sturgeon's SNP would be prepared to help Mr Corbyn into office, but there is a big difference over the timing of a possible referendum which is unresolved.

We are sure to hear more on that in this election.

More on this story