Last night’s Sky/Channel 4’s leaders debate did not go down as I had expected beforehand. I thought May would be solid but slightly dull, focusing more on the “coalition of chaos” stuff and less on the “strong and stable” tranche of her campaign thus far for fear of sniggering.
She was dull; I’ll give her that much. She also looked tense without it humanising her. Gone were the endlessly repeated slogans, to be replaced with the prime minister getting lost in endless detail. It got bad enough for the audience to actually laugh at her, she only managing to turn it around at the very end with her Brexit rhetoric (which she should have been directing the conversation towards the whole time).
Meanwhile, Corbyn was his best self. He’s a very good constituency MP, at home in front of crowds, and so the Q&A played to his strengths. He seemed warm and genuine. Paxman then tried to summon Corbyn’s considerable irritable side but overshot – Corbyn managed to keep his cool while Paxman seemed a bit hysterical, Corbyn even managing to use Paxman to get the crowd on the Labour leader’s side.
It was unquestionably Jeremy Corbyn’s night. But I don’t think it will change the election result in any way and here’s why.
Neither Corbyn nor May dropped a clanger; something that would resonate beyond the evening to reach the multitudes who hadn’t watched. No, “Did Labour overspend? – No” moments, in other words. As a result, its effect on the campaign is likely to be nil.
What the Tories will surely have taken from the evening is the IRA stuff isn’t cutting through as they thought it would. If you know a lot about Corbyn’s past and the fact that he hasn’t really changed his mind much on anything much in the intervening years, you can feel appalled. But most people don’t know that much about it and actually don’t really care, so trying to talk Corbyn up as a horrible person was never going to work. Instead, go with what most people see when they see Jeremy’s Corbyn: well meaning but essentially useless. You rerun the 2015 thing about a Labour-SNP coalition ruling the country, made much worse by the 2017 situation in three notable ways. One, Corbyn is much more dysfunctional than Miliband. Two, there’s Brexit to consider, and in a hung parliament situation Sturgeon would try some combo of reversing Article 50, insisting on a special deal for Scotland to remain in the single market to the detriment of England, or at very least the Brexit negotitions being run between an unmanageable nexus of Seamus Milne and cybernats. Three, the SNP would demand a second Indy Ref, which Corbyn would obviously roll over on in a heartbeat, thus imperilling the Union.
That’s why I still think we’re in Tory landslide territory: they still hold all the cards, provided they play it right from here. However, I do have to admit that they really do need to play it right from here on or we could be into unthinkable territory.