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Leadership debate turns Blind Date

The production seemed better suited to Cilla Black

November 19, 2019 - 10:08pm

The set may have been borrowed from ‘The Weakest Link‘, but the atmosphere was full-on ‘Blind Date’. Last night’s leaders’ debate felt like ITV had accidentally put on the wrong show, with host Julie Etchingham intent on sparking a moment of hide-under-the-sofa cringe between the candidates for prime minister.

“Will you look at each other and do a gesture?” she asked, bizarrely, to conclude a discussion about raising the tone in parliament. Boris thought of a joke, then thought better of it, so shuffled over and shook Jeremy Corbyn’s hand.

Later, even more oddly, the leaders were asked what Christmas present they would give the other. You could just imagine Cilla Black peering round the wall as the contestant asked with a suggestive smirk: “What would you get me for Christmas and why?”

“Well I know he likes a good read, so I’d give him a copy of A Christmas Carol so he could read all about how awful Scrooge was,” offered Jeremy. Not bad for no notice, I suppose, but still.

Never one for limits, Boris offered the Labour leader not one but two presents in return – a copy of his Brexit deal (sigh), and, because he “likes plants and trees”, some Damson jam.

At a time when we lament that our politics is so little respected, and with trust in parliament languishing at an all-time low, why on earth put the leaders through this nonsense? You could almost hear the sound of a million televisions being turned off with a sigh and a shrug.

Twitter seemed mainly amused by Jeremy Corbyn’s wonky glasses and whether he was blind in one eye, as he squinted to read the autocue; the audience, meanwhile, openly laughed at both candidates, with something like contempt.

Throughout, the short time allowed for each response had the effect of making both men more panicky, less interesting, and inevitably slightly humiliated when they were once again interrupted with a firm, “Thank you, that’s enough.”

I half expected to hear “Our Graham with a quick reminder” summing up for us:

Will it be jammy number one? He wants to cook you his oven-ready Brexit deal, so get ready for a second Christmas on January 31st… Or will it be bespectacled number two? He’s not sure what he’ll do but he surely won’t Scrooge on the NHS…

YouGov declared it virtually a tie, which was hurriedly interpreted by onlookers in the “spin room” as good for Labour, but, let’s face it, the leaders’ debate was lowbrow and little interested in informing voters of anything new. In this case, it wasn’t even the politicians’ fault.

Freddie Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.


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