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What did we learn from the second head-to-head General Election debate?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson went head-to-head with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson (BBC)
Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson (BBC)

By Richard Wheeler and Sam Blewett, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head for the second time during the General Election campaign at a BBC television debate in Maidstone.

But what did we learn from the clash?

Playing it safe and no knockout blow

With the voters going to the ballots in six days, Mr Johnson stayed on safe territory and stuck to his “get Brexit done” mantra and churned out familiar sentences from the campaign.

He did stray from the script when asked what should happen to politicians if they lie during an election campaign, replying they should be “made to go on their knees” in the House of Commons “scourging themselves with their offending documents”.

Mr Corbyn was similarly safe for the most part but did respond to questions on anti-Semitism in a way which shifted focus on to abuse concerns within the Conservative Party, although he failed to land a knockout blow to derail the Tory leader.

The shadows of former prime ministers loom large over the current leaders

The opening focused on the interventions of Sir John Major and Tony Blair designed to oppose Brexit, and whether the ex-PMs were a “couple of old has-beens”.

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Former prime minister Tony Blair (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Johnson disagreed with Sir John and claimed he now leads a “totally united party”, a belief which would be tested if he wins next week.

Labour’s Mr Corbyn said the pair of former PMs were welcome to make comments but turned the answer back to the impact of austerity.

Unanswered questions on Brexit

Mr Corbyn stuck to his desire to renegotiate a Brexit deal before holding a referendum, but was unable to explain how his neutral approach and Remain support from shadow cabinet colleagues will result in a better agreement with the EU.

Mr Johnson maintained things will be “fantastic” if the Withdrawal Agreement can be secured by January 31 without certainty about the trade details and timetable for future progress.

Reluctance to mention the past

Mr Johnson still appears at times to be reluctant to address the last nine years of Conservative-led government, including cuts to probation, police and prisons.

Mr Johnson tried to focus on the investment he wants to make in the services rather than the reasons linked to his party as to why such a cash injection is needed.

Another draw

Despite going head-to-head for an hour during a second televised debate, polling suggested neither candidate managed to significantly swing public opinion their way.

A snap poll from YouGov after Friday’s tussle suggested 52% of viewers believed Mr Johnson was the victor while 48% thought it was Mr Corbyn.

This result, as with last month’s debate, was however within the research’s margin of error so the pollsters were unable to say who the public thought came out on top.

PA

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