On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, ITV showed the first debate of the election campaign.

Supporters of smaller political parties criticised ITV for inviting only Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, but, in reality, only one of the two will be Britain’s next PM:

At that point, a week before Remembrance Day (hence the poppies), the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson was confident she had a real chance at becoming PM:

Although Conservatives believed Boris should have been harder hitting on Labour policies, he probably pulled back because a) this was early in the campaign and b) he wanted to help convince undecided or low-information voters that Conservatives have the better policies.

Afterwards, ITV News reported on the highlights (emphases mine):

In the opening exchanges, the prime minister warned the UK faced more “dither and delay” under a Labour government.

He said a vote for the Conservatives would be a vote to finally “get Brexit done”.

“If you vote for us, we have a deal that is ready to go. Approved by every one of the 635 Conservatives candidates standing at this election,” he said.

As soon as we can get that deal through Parliament, as we can in the next few weeks, we can get on with the people’s priorities.”

But Mr Corbyn retorted that he could not deliver on what he was promising.

“That idea that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’ deal can be dealt with and finished by the end of January is such nonsense,” he said.

“What he is proposing is a trade deal which will take at least seven years to negotiate whilst at the same time saying he will negotiate a special trade deal with the European Union.

“The two things are actually incompatible.”

Also:

Mr Corbyn’s shifted focus onto the NHS, claiming the service would be part of trade negotiations with the US.

Mr Corbyn accused the prime minister of conducting “secret meetings” with the US about the NHS and a future trade deal.

The Labour leader said: “What we know of what Mr Johnson has done is a series of secret meetings with the United States in which they were proposing to open up our NHS markets as they call them to American companies.”

To this claim, Mr Johnson replied: “I’m amazed how often this comes up.”

Mr Johnson insisted: “This is an absolute invention, it is completely untrue, there are no circumstances whatever that this Government or any Conservative Government would put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiations.”

That was the week after Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview on the BBC, which had aired the previous Saturday evening. Moderator Julie Etchingham asked the two leaders about the monarchy. I have highlighted what the PM said, because it has been often misquoted since:

Asked if the monarchy is fit for purpose, Mr Corbyn simply replied: “It needs a bit of improvement.”

Mr Johnson answered: “The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach,”

Ms Etchingham then asked if Prince Andrew is fit for purpose.

Mr Corbyn highlighted how sympathies should be with Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, which Mr Johnson echoed.

Boris never said the monarchy was beyond reproach, meaning individual royals. He remarked on the institution itself.

Corbyn, who has been repeatedly accused of downplaying anti-Semitism in his party, which, oddly, has been rampant since he took over as leader in 2016, brought up Jeffrey Epstein. As everyone following the scandal knows, his surname is pronounced ‘Ep-steen’, but Corbyn deliberately pronounced it ‘Ep-shtein’, putting real emphasis on it.

The former editor-in-chief of The Independent, Simon Kelner, wrote an editorial about it for the i paper, ‘Conscious or not, Jeremy Corbyn’s mispronunciation of Jeffrey Epstein’s name matters to British Jews’. Too right it does:

The question, which we can be sure will never be answered, is this: did Corbyn do it, consciously or unconsciously (they’re both as bad as each other, by the way), to make Epstein sound just a little more sinister and foreign and, relevantly in the context, more Jewish? It’s hard to come up with an answer that doesn’t make the Labour leader appear either malevolent or incompetent. Given the wall-to-wall media coverage devoted to the scandal over recent days, it stretches credulity to suggest that Corbyn hadn’t heard Epstein’s name pronounced correctly multiple times.

it was a very emphatic delivery – is something else entirely, and Corbyn had to go out of his way to summon up the mittel-European pronunciation

I am more of a pedant than I am an anti-Semite hunter, but my synapses were twitching on both counts. I have a high threshold for anti-Semitism, and I have never thought that there was a prima facie case against Corbyn in this respect. In fact, I share some of his views on the politics of the Middle East. But this definitely pulled me up short. Having just watched his epically short-tempered interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4, which was filmed in 2015 but went viral this week, it made me wonder whether Corbyn might just be, to borrow [the BBC’s] Eddie Mair’s epithet about Boris Johnson, a nasty piece of work.

While the mispronunciation of Epstein’s name may not be viewed by the majority of viewers as overtly anti-Semitic, it definitely had a nasty edge. No one is offended on Epstein’s behalf (that would be ludicrous), but if I found it offensive, many, many other Jewish people would have found it more so

Whether I am reading too much into a slip of the tongue is open for debate. But what is not in question is that Jeremy Corbyn should be doing all he can to persuade Jewish voters that, on anti-Semitism, he doesn’t just talk the talk. And what he did here was, apart from anything else, very bad politics.

More on this follows below.

Members of the audience were allowed to ask questions:

The debate ended with a hypothetical question from an audience member about what Christmas presents the two leaders would give each other:

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

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

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

At that point, Boris walked over to Corbyn and invited him to shake hands. It was a spontaneous moment, and it’s a pity that ITV did not report on it. Viewers could see Corbyn backing away from Boris with his outstretched hand. After seconds of hesitation, he extended his own for a limp handshake. Boris’s was much heartier.

What did the general public think? Interestingly, the result was similar to that for the Brexit referendum, which was 52% to 48%:

Leaders of the two main parties take part in debates like tonight’s, in part, to try to win over undecided voters.

A YouGov snap poll suggested 51% of Britons believed Mr Johnson won the debate compared to 49% for Mr Corbyn.

Those who answered “don’t know” were removed from the result, with YouGov adding the figures are so close as to be within the margin of error.

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston told news presenter Alastair Stewart that Jeremy Corbyn needed this debate to present a positive game-changer for Labour, who were trailing in the polls then and continue to do so now. Peston said that it was a draw. People who want Brexit done will vote for Boris. People who are worried about the NHS will vote for Corbyn:

Tom Harwood, who works for Guido Fawkes, said that Labour missed a trick with their claim that the Conservatives would ‘sell the NHS’ to President Trump:

Interestingly, our EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, noticed another of Harwood’s tweets — and ‘liked’ it:

Dear me. Whatever next?

Well, the Labour-supporting newspaper, The Mirror, did not exactly go overboard in favour of Corbyn’s performance. Then, again, Prince Andrew was still making the headlines:

At the weekend, the polls remained static. More than one person thought this was because of the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. They are the only other political party other than the extreme British National Party to be investigated for it. Shameful:

One week later — Tuesday, November 26 — Corbyn appeared on the BBC for an evening interview with veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil. He looked tired, ‘low energy’ (to borrow a Trumpism) and cranky. Neil took him to town on anti-Semitism, forcing him to admit nearly everyone in Britain would be poorer under Labour as well as false claims about the Conservatives wanting to sell the NHS to Trump:

It was generally agreed that, only days after Prince Andrew managed to give one of the all-time worst interviews on television, Corbyn managed to rival him:

This is how bad it was:

These were some of the newspaper headlines on Wednesday:

Andrew Neil began by asking Corbyn if he thought a particular statement about ‘Rothschild Zionists’ was anti-Semitic. Corbyn refused to say, until after the fourth time Neil repeated it:

Guido Fawkes said (emphasis in the original):

Jeremy Corbyn had to be asked four times before admitting ‘Rothchild Zionists run Israel and world governments’ is an anti-Semitic trope. This’ll undoubtedly put the minds of 80% of British Jews to rest…

Corbyn offered no apology for the anti-Semitism in sections of the Labour Party. This video is subtitled:

Andrew Neil grilled Corbyn on taxing everyone more, not just the wealthy:

Neil exposed the fact that Labour’s costings make no sense. Where’s the money coming from? The reply is not an actual Corbyn quote, by the way:

Labour supporters accused Neil of interrupting Corbyn, but:

The Sun has an excellent summary of the interview:

The next morning, ITV’s Piers Morgan picked up Corbyn’s daft comment on ISIS:

The interview got very good ratings:

With regard to the NHS, Neil scored points there, too.

Even Barry Gardiner, the erudite, effete veteran Labour MP — technically a Labour candidate, now that we are approaching the election — couldn’t defend his leader to Andrew Neil with regard to his questionable statements about the Conservatives wanting to sell the NHS to the United States. This interview took place 24 hours later:

Guido Fawkes commented:

The second excruciating Andrew Neil interview Labour has had to go through took place last night, when Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner was shown up over Jeremy Corbyn’s blatant fibs to the electorate. Labour are banking on people not being bothered to read the 451 pages they produced. Unfortunately for them, Guido has

With this and snapping at a journalist for mentioning anti-Semitism, Gardiner has not been having a good media round…

Those interested can follow Guido’s link in his first paragraph to see the documents in question.

Jeremy Corbyn is talking a lot of nonsense not only on the NHS but everything else his party proposes.

One thing is for certain: so far, he has been a gift to the Conservatives.