Closed Election: Johnson and Corbyn go head to head in first TV debate — as it happened


Conservative and Labour leaders face off in hour-long televised showdown; Labour party vows to rewrite rules of UK economy; Greens pledge £100bn a year to hit emissions target by 2030.

Hello! Join us for more live 2019 campaign coverage

Good morning. Nice to see you again. Welcome back to our rolling coverage of the UK’s general election campaign. We will collate news, analysis and comment from the FT’s team throughout the day. Tonight’s televised debate between the leaders of the two main parties will be the focus today, as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson prepare to face off on commercial broadcaster ITV. As ever, do let us know your thoughts and anything you would like us to cover in the comments section below.

A little bit of catch-up and look ahead

Main party leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are to face each other in the campaign’s first televised election debate, due to air tonight on ITV.

The Liberal Democrats and Scottish National party failed in a legal challenge so their leaders Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon will not be included.

Read George and Sebastian’s piece here.

Mr Corbyn is expected to use class warfare attacks to show himself on the side of “the many”. The opposition party’s research suggests 48 of the UK’s billionaires have donated to the Conservatives since 2005.

Jim Pickard writes that members of Mr Corbyn’s inner circle see the leader’s best hope of becoming prime minister is to lead a minority government with smaller opposition parties Corbyn’s best hope is a minority government, say backers

Johnson on Javid: ‘Great guy, doing a fantastic job’

Boris Johnson has said he will back Sajid Javid to remain chancellor if the Conservatives win the election on December 12.

Some speculation had been swirling that the Tory leader planned to get rid of the former Deutsche Bank executive. Mr Javid’s insistence on fighting the election with some fiscal discipline had put him at odds with those in the Johnson team who favoured more public spending.

“I think he’s a great guy and I think he is doing a fantastic job,” Mr Johnson said yesterday.

Take a look at George and Sebastian’s report.

‘High performing’ energy industry differs from utilities, says SSE chief

The energy industry is “high performing” and differs from other industries such as water, says the boss of SSE. Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of the FTSE 100 utility, said the complexity and distraction of taking energy networks back into state ownership would also “significantly delay” changes needed to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions target, such as introducing sufficient electric vehicle charging.

See Nathalie Thomas’s interview with the SSE chief.

Mr Phillips-Davies said he was hopeful the Labour party, which wants to renationalise large parts of the economy, could be persuaded it would be a “huge mistake” to take back public control of an industry that was privatised from 1986 and which he insists was “high performing”.

Boris the Brand v The Corbyn Programme

Without Brexit, we would not know what Boris Johnson stands for, argues Robert Shrimsley in his column this week.

Brexit has afforded Mr Johnson a definition he does not really possess. Take away Brexit and what he offers voters is not so much a vision as a brand.

Jeremy Corbyn, however, is easy and voters know exactly what he believes in. He is an uncompromising socialist, a unilateralist and an anti-American. His instincts place state control over the market, workers over employers and non-intervention over military action. Only on Brexit is Mr Corbyn vague.

How much higher can the pound go?

Sterling was flat in early London trading this morning, holding onto yesterday’s gains as weekend polls showed Boris Johnson’s Conservatives widening their lead over Labour.

The pound was the top performing G-10 currency yesterday, and hit a six-month high against the euro.

“Attention will turn to tonight’s head-to-head debate between Prime Minister Johnson and Labour leader Corbyn,” Deutsche Bank’s strategists said.

“Corbyn has to make these events count with Johnson if he wants to catch up so expect a full on attack from the challenger.”

Looking further ahead though, the FT’s Mike Mackenzie thinks the pound looks near a top until the general election result provides the next catalyst for the currency market. You can sign up for his daily Market Forces email here.

In the wider stock market, London’s FTSE 100 followed its major European peers higher on a day of few catalysts and limited moves.

Duke fallout and Hong Kong violence: what’s hitting the headlines

The Times says the Duke of York’s main charitable project is in jeopardy as City backers and his key sponsor pulls out:

Most other papers lead on the Prince Andrew fallout and investors pulling the plug. The Daily Telegraph has Charles Moore, former editor of the paper, The Spectator and The Sunday Telegraph, making the case for Andrew. “Andrew was caught like a fly in the BBC’s web” is the headline to his commentary.

The Guardian leads on National Health Service chiefs warning that the staffing crisis in hospitals is putting patients at risk and highlights the anger as US says Israel settlements are “not illegal”. The NHS will pay some of doctors’ tax bills, says the Telegraph, in efforts to avert a winter crisis caused by understaffing. Many consultants have refused to work overtime in case they are hit by high tax rates on their earnings and pension contributions.

The Financial Times highlights the clashes in Hong Kong with a stark photo of a woman being detained. Its other main stories are Boris Johnson shelving his corporation tax cut while Airbnb is limbering up for its initial listing by signing a $500m Olympic sponsorship deal.

Labour to add scrapping tuition fees to manifesto

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell wants to create a society where everyone has a fair chance to succeed and “grotesque levels of inequality” are tackled, he tells BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

The opposition party plans to launch its manifesto on Thursday, reports Eoin McSweeney.

“Our policy is to scrap tuition fees,” said Mr McDonnell.

I’m not betraying any secret. That will be in our manifesto, launched on Thursday. The debt that has been piled up already…[It] is a problem we all have to accept. The government is having to write it off… The system was designed in such a way that it would not work.

When pressed on the pile of student debt, he said something had to be done by whoever is in government, but did not specify what.

Mr McDonnell believes tax cuts have continuously benefited corporations and the wealthy. He invited billionaire John Caldwell, a critic of Mr Corbyn, to talk to him so he can allay any fears of an attack on entrepreneurship.

Can Corbyn change the course of the election this evening?

With Labour trailing by a growing margin in the polls, Jeremy Corbyn will hope this evening’s televised debate with Boris Johnson will reboot the narrative of the election campaign.

George Parker and Sebastian Payne have been looking at what to watch:

• The Labour leader’s team — including communications chief Seamus Milne — spent Monday afternoon rehearsing for the hour-long encounter on ITV, buoyed by how Mr Corbyn’s TV debate performances exceeded expectations in the 2017 campaign.

• He is expected to take an aggressive line against Mr Johnson during the debate, using class warfare attacks to paint himself as the prime ministerial candidate on the side of “the many”.

• The prime minister will go on the offensive on Brexit but is being advised to avoid being too strident in his attacks on Mr Corbyn.

• Mr Johnson’s team played down the idea that TV debates were frequently “game-changer” moments in election campaigns, arguing the last time they had a transformative effect was during the shortlived Cleggmania of 2010.

Will the format matter tonight?

Televised debates have been part of British elections since 2010, but tonight will be the first time that only the two main candidates to be prime minister will go head to head.

In the previous two elections, in 2015 and 2017, formats ranged from question and answer sessions with only one candidate on stage at a time to freewheeling and often clunky multi-party debates.

Some in Westminster are surprised that Boris Johnson has signed up to the format, given his strong position in the polls.

Sean Kemp, a Lib Dem adviser who worked with former party leader Nick Clegg in 2010, told the FT the prime minister had the most to lose.

Jeremy Corbyn is actually quite good in this format: he will say that cutting things is bad and that getting rich people to pay more is good.

If you look back at the history of these TV contests, the only similar format has been in 2010, when the leaders of the then-three largest parties took part in a trio of debates. They were also the only time that the debates made a significant impact on the polls, when there was a short-lived bout of “Cleggmania” as the Liberal Democrats surged.

SNP’s Sturgeon on tonight’s debate

The Scottish National party and Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third and fourth largest in the most recent parliament, have been blocked out of tonight’s debate after they failed in a legal challenge aimed at including their leaders in the ITV programme.

The Lib Dems and SNP argued it was illegal and unfair to exclude anti-Brexit parties from the primetime TV debate, but the High Court in London ruled against them on Monday.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has mocked the prime minister this morning, referring in a tweet to his pledge to “die in a ditch” rather than delay Brexit.

Greens push for net zero carbon emissions by 2030 in manifesto

The Green party has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2030 in their election manifesto, which they launched this morning in south London, Laura Hughes writes.

The party’s co-leaders have set out 10 parliamentary bills, which they seek to push through parliament over the next two years.

Their manifesto includes:

- A Green New Deal Bill to “get the UK on track to reducing climate emissions to net zero by 2030″.

- A People’s Vote Bill which calls for a second vote on “the future of our relationship with the European Union”.

- An NHS Reinstatement Bill to increase funding for the National Health Service by at least £6bn per year, until 2030.

- A Universal Basic Income Bill – to transform the social welfare system with a phased-in unconditional payment to “everyone at a level above their subsistence needs.

- A Future Generations Bill which would “require public bodies to balance the needs of the present with the needs of the future”.

- A Voting Reform Bill – to replace the UK’s first past the post voting system with proportional representation and extend the voting age to 16 and 17 year-olds.

Greens: The Future Won’t Give Us Another Chance

Co-leader Siân Berry said every Green MP elected to the House of Commons will “hit the ground running” with the bills if voted into parliament next month, Laura Hughes writes.

Caroline Lucas, the party’s only elected member and its former leader, was first voted an MP in 2010 and increased her majority in the subsequent two elections.

“The future won’t give us another chance to get the next two years right,” Ms Berry said.

Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley warned the climate change emergency facing the UK is of a “different magnitude to the financial crash”.

Our planet is ringing the alarm. Hitting snooze simply isn’t an option. We can’t expect the climate emergency to go into reverse.

Amelia Womack, the party’s deputy leader, hit out at the Liberal Democrat party’s pledge to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether without a second EU referendum.

She said the Greens would not “overturn the votes of millions of our fellow citizens” and would instead push for a second vote.

Greens pledge £100bn a year for ambitious emissions reduction plan

Here is some more detail on the Green New Deal.

To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, the party says it will invest £100bn a year.

Subsidies to the oil and gas industry would be removed, a carbon tax on all fossil fuel imports and domestic extraction would be applied and fracking banned. The construction of nuclear power stations would be prohibited because it “is a distraction from developing renewable energy” and poses a risk to nearby communities.

Labour’s manifesto is expected to use aspirational language in trying to reach the 2030 net-zero carbon target, softening a pledge from its party conference this year. The Conservatives meanwhile have announced a halt to fracking, and set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Liberal Democrats have promised the same by 2045.

If the Green party gains power, they promise that 70 per cent of the UK’s electricity will be provided by wind in 10 years’ time and community-driven renewable energy projects will be commonplace in a more efficient network.

Crunch point comes tonight with televised dual

The televised debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, scheduled for 8pm on ITV, is the most important moment in a campaign that has been a relatively staid affair to date, with no one gaining or losing much momentum, writes Sebastian Payne.

It will be an opportunity for opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and a potential threat for the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson. The prime minister is on course to win a comfortable majority: he can either solidify his position or jeopardise it. The risk of the latter is much greater.

A senior official on the Tory campaign explains what they hope to achieve tonight:

It’s a moment to reinforce our messages at a time when more voters than usual sit up and take notice (or take some interest after the fact and go and look around for it).

We are not looking for some silver bullet as they don’t exist. Land your message, illustrate the contrast, make the case, and importantly look reasonable. Tone is important.

The leader of the opposition, however, needs a breakthrough tonight. The Labour party’s campaign has lacked the surprise sparkle of 2017 and there is no sign of Mr Corbyn making any gains. It is 15 points behind the Tories in the polls and time is running out to narrow the gap.

Labour plan to shake up Companies Act

John McDonnell has vowed to “rewrite the rules of our economy” – by enhancing the rights of workers at the expense of shareholders – if Labour wins the general election, Jim Pickard reports.

Mr McDonnell, speaking at an event in central London, said he wanted to explore the introduction of two-tier boards for larger listed companies: they would have an executive board for day-to-day decisions and a supervisory board of stakeholders, employees and customers.

We will ensure that all executive remuneration packages in large companies are subject to an annual binding vote by stakeholders, including shareholders, employees and consumers.

The shadow chancellor said that the Vote Leave slogan, “Take back control”, struck a chord with people in 2016 because workers felt disempowered. “We aim to take on the excesses of the shareholder model and lay the foundations for a stakeholder economy.”

At the heart of Labour’s model will be the idea that every business should be a partnership – between employees, customers, managers and shareholders. This is to ensure the long-term success of the enterprise.

Market round-up: Pound slides while equities tick up

The pound has snapped a four-day winning streak to trim about 0.2 per cent off its value against the dollar and trade at about $1.2931 in late morning trade in London. The UK currency has shed a similar amount against the euro today to €1.1676. That makes €1 buy 85.61p.

Stocks meanwhile have had a bit of a lift with the composite Stoxx 600 up 0.6 per cent while the FTSE 100 has picked up 1.2 per cent. London’s benchmark index has added nearly 10 per cent this year.

After a lacklustre few days, today’s climb would put the London exchange on a path towards its biggest percentage gain in a day since August. US stock futures point towards the record-busting S&P500, which has added about a fifth to its value this year, climbing another 0.3 per cent when Wall Street opens later on Tuesday.

Labour’s plans for corporate governance

Here is some more from Jim Pickard, who has been watching Labour’s John McDonnell speak this morning:

Labour has just released a document that spells out some of the corporate governance elements of the party’s manifesto. Here are the main points:

• John McDonnell is pushing ahead with his “inclusive ownership funds” that would seize 10 per cent of the shares in all big companies over a decade – at 1 per cent a year. The document makes clear for the first time that the IOF shares would be limited to UK profits only. Research from a think tank called Common Wealth suggests that this model would mean annual dividends of £5.8bn a year.

• Companies which do not take adequate steps to tackle the climate emergency will be delisted from the London Stock Exchange. McDonnell first floated this in May.

• A Labour government would impose a 20:1 pay ratio between highest and lowest paid workers in the public sector and private companies bidding for state contracts.

• All executive remuneration packages in large companies will be subject to an annual binding vote by stakeholders including staff and consumers as well as shareholders.

• The ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms will be forced to split their accounting and consulting arms. A new statutory body would conduct audits of all financial services companies.

• A new Business Commission would oversee a shake-up of Britain’s regulatory system.

• Labour would rewrite the Companies Act to ensure companies are oriented towards the long-term.

• Not only will companies have workers on boards but large companies will also be invited to adopt a two-tier board structure: the executive board would take daily decisions and the supervisory board (including customers, staff, shareholders) would take more long-term decisions.

• Meanwhile the shadow chancellor was asked by one reporter if there would be a “windfall tax” for oil companies in the manifesto on Thursday and he said: “No.” So I then asked him if there was a new tax of some other kind on the oil industry and he refused to answer.

Labour promises Big Four crackdown

Here’s more from Jim Pickard on John McDonnell’s confirmation that Labour will separate the Big Four’s audit businesses from other non-audit services such as consulting. The party will establish a new statutory body to carry out audits of banks, building societies, credit unions, insurers and major investment firms, he said.

The shadow chancellor vowed to shake up the system of auditors for various industries under the auspices of a new “Business Commission”.

Labour in government will institute a radical overhaul of UK company law and practice in order to bring about real change in the corporate sector.

Business hits back at Labour’s corporate overhaul plans

The verdict is in from British business on Labour’s proposed economic shake-up and it is not glowing.

In the wake of John McDonnell’s speech this morning, the British Chambers of Commerce warned that it would be “misguided” to impose rigid strictures on how companies operate and said “government interference” could hurt investment.

The shadow chancellor’s plan to “rewrite the rules of our economy” would involve sweeping changes to the way businesses are run, ranging from “inclusive ownership funds” that would seize 10 per cent of the shares in all big companies over a decade to a pledge to delist companies that do not take sufficient steps to tackle climate change.

“It’s one thing to support employee ownership, stronger corporate governance and a transition to a greener economy, which have had positive impacts on many firms,” said Claire Walker, co-executive director of the BCC. “But it would be misguided to impose a rigid, one-size-fits all approach.”

She added:

Getting our economy moving requires serious investment in skills, infrastructure and a reduction in business costs. But extensive government interference in ownership and governance could deter investors and damage confidence.

Any incoming government must work more closely with businesses to transform the economy to benefit communities across the UK. Businesspeople want to play their part, but success will depend on partnership, not diktat.

Best friends and worst enemies: The election is testing bonds

While politics is a tough business, the start of this particular campaign has been marked by a peculiar mix of match-fixing and furious aggression, Miranda Green writes in her column.

It has already spawned both a “Unite to Remain” alliance – Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru – and a “unilateral Leave alliance” – with the Brexit party standing down from Tory-held seats.

But the amity also conceals considerable enduring enmity. The Brexit party is bickering about how far to go to ease Boris Johnson’s path to a majority, while Labour and the Lib Dems are at daggers drawn.

With this cross section of extreme positions, some fear the next crop of MPs may be even more tribal and disputatious.

The think-tank Radix has produced a paper entitled “Avoiding the psychopaths”. It suggests ensuring that would-be MPs are able to work across party lines by publishing a job spec that calls for individuals who are “committed to public service, able to build alliances, juggle multiple tasks and have thick skins”.

Check out Miranda’s column here

Boris Johnson to be replaced by Rishi Sunak in 7-way TV debate

Rishi Sunak is set to represent Boris Johnson in one of the major televised debates in the UK’s election campaign, the FT’s Sebastian Payne reveals.

Mr Sunak — the chief secretary to the Treasury, widely seen as a rising star in the Conservative party — is the frontrunner to represent the Tories at a seven-way debate hosted by the BBC on November 29.

The choice of Mr Sunak for such a prominent event suggests he is in line for a promotion if Mr Johnson wins a majority in the December 12 poll.

Conservative campaign insiders said that while the decision of who the party would put forward for the BBC debate was not “100 per cent confirmed”, Mr Sunak was the clear favourite to stand in for the prime minister, who is unlikely to participate. 

Mr Johnson will appear at two head-to-head debates with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — with the first taking place tonight — as well as a Question Time special taking questions from audience members.

For more on this, read Seb’s full piece here

FT poll tracker update

As Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn rehearse their lines ahead of tonight’s showdown, a reminder of where the parties stand in the polls.

The FT’s latest poll tracker — which aggregates all voting intention surveys published by major British pollsters — puts the Conservatives 12 points ahead of Labour.

This is a slight narrowing from yesterday’s 13-point difference, reflecting a new poll by ICM, released yesterday, which gives Mr Corbyn’s party a stronger share of the vote than many other pollsters (though the poll did show Mr Johnson’s party narrowing its lead versus its own previous polling).

But with the Conservatives remaining solidly ahead, all eyes will be on tonight’s debate, which will be the first opportunity for Mr Corbyn to disrupt the course of the campaign.

Here is the the latest poll tracker, as compiled by the FT’s John Burn-Murdoch, Martin Stabe and Cale Tilford:

Can Jeremy Corbyn win tonight?

We are just over three hours off tonight’s TV debate — the first of the campaign — and both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson are limbering up.

For Mr Corbyn, whose Labour party trails the Conservatives by 12 points according to the FT’s latest poll tracker, the event provides an opportunity overhaul the campaign narrative, writes the FT’s Whitehall editor James Blitz.

In the first leaders’ debate of 2010, Nick Clegg’s powerful performance for the Liberal Democrats pretty much guaranteed that David Cameron would fail to win a clear majority.

Some commentators believe Mr Johnson is taking a much bigger risk than Mr Corbyn by agreeing to the debate.

“If you look at the polls, the election is Boris’s to lose,” Sean Kemp, a Lib Dem adviser, told the FT. “Jeremy Corbyn is actually quite good in this format: he will say that cutting things is bad and that getting rich people to pay more is good.”

But the central question in this election will be whether centre-left Remain voters coalesce around Labour, which would be dangerous for the Tories; or whether those voters split between Labour and the Lib Dems, allowing Tory candidates to slip through and win in many constituencies.

Just by turning up tonight, Mr Corbyn will establish that he is the sole challenger to Mr Johnson. All the Labour leader needs to do is score a draw. 

Sterling steady as traders bank on a Tory majority

The pound has maintained most of yesterday’s gains as traders continue to anticipate a Conservative majority after December 12.

The currency jumped yesterday after weekend polling showed the Tories extending their lead over Labour. A fresh poll today by Kantar reinforced this message.

As European equity markets edged towards the close the pound was down narrowly by 0.2 per cent on the day against both the dollar and euro at $1.2932 and €1.1670, respectively. That still leaves it hovering around a two-week high against the dollar and a 6-month high against the euro.

The rising probability of a Tory majority has been seen as a positive for the currency by investors as it would at least offer a clear way ahead over Brexit and remove the chance of a no-deal exit.

As Stefan Koopman, a senior market economist at Rabobank, puts it:

Currencies tend to react favourably to expectations of a strong, liberal and market-friendly government. The polls indeed indicate that the UK is likely to be handed such a government, even though the Conservatives do their utmost best to mar their business-friendly credentials.

In this sense the pound is likely to rally if Boris Johnson secures a comfortable majority next month.

But that would not be the end of the risks that face sterling. The task of carving out a trade deal still lies ahead, and given that the Tories have already shed many moderate MPs, there is a risk Mr Johnson will be pushed into a hardline approach in his talks with the EU by his party.

“So after an initial period of relief, a Tory majority may therefore bring plenty of scope for sterling volatility next year,” notes Mr Koopman.

Grassroots vie for spotlight as north becomes key battleground

Chris Tighe, the FT’s north east England correspondent, writes

First there was the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the campaign started by former coalition Conservative chancellor George Osborne to raise the north of England’s profile and performance.

Then came the ‘People’s Powerhouse’, a campaigning movement spearheaded by charities, social enterprises, arts organisations and think tanks with a focus on addressing inequalities and keeping wealth in communities.

Conservative sights in this general election have been set on the “red wall” of traditionally Labour-held seats in the north and midlands. Mr Johnson’s route to a Commons majority is heavily focused on seizing Leave-supporting seats in the region that the opposition party has held for a long time.

Taking advantage of the newfound attention from Westminster, the People’s Powerhouse is arguing that influence needs come from the bottom up to determine the priorities for economic and social change.

While endorsing the ‘Manifesto for the North’, a mainstream document launched this month by northern businesses and elected leaders on steps to transform the economy, the People’s Powerhouse wants a much more diverse range of voices to be heard.

Underlining the difference in approach, its latest rallying event, held today in Sunderland was hosted not by a politician or business leader but by poet Kate Fox.

Ideas being discussed included a ‘People’s Plan for the North’, universal basic income, a regional community bank and whether a ‘Northern Citizens Assembly’ could help hold business and political leaders to account.

Markets round up: Stocks mixed amid lack of clarity on US-China deal

It was a choppy session for European markets, with the composite Stoxx 600 down marginally on the day as markets await prompts on a potential trade deal between the US and China.

Yesterday’s extension from the Trump administration for US companies to do business with blacklisted Chinese telecoms group Huawei prompted some optimism a “phase one” deal may be nearing, and European stocks climbed early in the day. But they later reversed track as that optimism faded.

That made for a mixed day of trade in Europe, with major bourses ultimately closing close to the flatline. The Stoxx 600 was down 0.1 per cent at the end of the European trading day, having jumped as much as 0.7 per cent earlier in the day.

The FTSE 100 in London added 0.2 per cent, while Frankfurt’s Dax 30 was up 0.1 per cent and the Cac 40 in Paris shed 0.4 per cent.

Sterling slipped 0.2 per cent against the dollar and 0.3 per cent against the euro after conflicting polls showed the Conservatives both gaining and losing ground against Labour.

Attention turns to tonight’s debate

We are two hours out now from the maiden debate of the campaign and Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have headed for Salford ahead of the 8pm kick off.

Mr Corbyn was the first to arrive at the Media City studio, telling reporters as he entered he was hoping for a “respectful and informative debate”.

I’m very confident in our policies and our ability to try and transform this country, to reduce the levels of inequality and give real hope to people who have been so up against it for the past 10 years because of austerity.

No sign of his opponent yet, but the prime minister tweeted a video earlier of him leaving Downing Street, urging voters to return him to Downing Street in order to “get Brexit done”.

Word on the street in Manchester: ‘I don’t trust any politician’

As Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn prepare for tonight’s debate in Media City, Salford, the FT’s George Parker and Andy Bounds have been speaking to voters down the road at the Christmas market in Albert Square, Manchester.

The message there, it seems, is that while voters don’t trust Mr Johnson, they are still willing to vote for him.

“I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth,” said Jenny from Derbyshire, referring to Mr Johnson, before cheerfully confirming that she would be voting for him.

Ryan Dior, a script writer, expressed a similar sentiment. “I don’t trust any politician.”

But amid the glühwein and wurst stalls of Albert Square, it is clear that Mr Johnson’s chequered past has often been baked into the candidate’s price and, crucially, the voters seem to like him more than Mr Corbyn.

Alex Clare, a 31-year-old local council worker who voted Labour in 2017, said: “I believe he’s going to make the right decisions for the country. Whatever he has done wrong in the past should be put aside. This is about getting things done now.”

Polling suggests that voters like the Labour leader less, trust him less with big decisions and see him as weaker than his Conservative rival.

“I don’t believe him, I don’t trust him,” said Mark Evans, a retired prison officer from Warrington. Mr Evans, a former Labour voter, added: “I think he would bankrupt the country. I don’t think we can afford the policies he is coming up with.”

Read George and Andy’s full piece here

The candidates prepare

What is it with this election and boxing?

The prime minister became at least the third senior politician to pose wearing boxing gloves when he stopped at an academy in Manchester earlier today.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn posted a video on Instagram of a stop at a barbers for a “quick trim” before the debate.

Boris Johnson has arrived

The prime minister entered the venue via a side entrance along with his entourage, avoiding a group of protesters who had gathered by the main entrance.

Welcome to the ‘spin room’

The two candidates will be alone on the stage tonight, but in the nearby ‘spin room’ a stream of politicians will be giving their instant and inevitably one-eyed perspectives on the debate to the waiting media.

Labour’s Barry Gardiner is already out of the blocks. He has been telling Sky News that Jeremy Corbyn should “be himself” this evening.

“Jeremy is a man of unbelievable integrity, he is a man of great honesty, he is a man who has held his principles rock solid for years.”

Mr Corbyn will act “with dignity” if he is personally attacked by Boris Johnson, the shadow cabinet member added.

Tonight’s moderator on an ‘adrenaline pumped’ evening

The ITV debate begins at 8pm this evening.

Tonight’s moderator Julie Etchingham believes she will have done her job if the evening “makes sense” to viewers.

Ms Etchingham has won plaudits for her handling of previous debates, and will try to coax Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn into a coherent exchange on “the teeth” of a range of issues.

Speaking in the build up to the programme, she said everything depends on whether the two leaders are willing to engage with each other, rather than try to speak directly at the watching audience.

If they try and pass over your head, and talk to the audience and not really engage with the opponent, it gets difficult. That’s where you have to interject as a moderator.

She said that she has sensed the nerves from candidates in previous debates and that “you get to see the whites of their eyes” in this format.

“They are quite uniquely adrenaline pumped.”

How interested are people on social media?


Several of the trending topics on Twitter in the UK at the moment cover tonight’s debate, but one piece of breaking news has shot to the top … Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked as manager of Premier League side Tottenham.

How the debate works

ITV has revealed details of the format of this evening’s debate.

Each leader will give a one-minute opening statement, and have 45 seconds to sum up at the end.

In between, the 200-strong studio audience will ask questions which “broadly reflect a range of society, from different political backgrounds.”

Jeremy Corbyn has ‘won the toss’ and chosen to speak first. Boris Johnson will close the debate. Mr Corbyn also chose to stand on the right of the stage as the audience looks on.

Corbyn has little to lose and everything to gain

A reminder that Boris Johnson is going into tonight’s debate with a sizeable personal approval lead over Jeremy Corbyn, whose popularity levels are unprecedentedly low.

The Labour leader’s net satisfaction rating stands at minus 60, by far the lowest in the run up to an election since Ipsos MORI started tracking the data back in 1979, as the chart below from the FT’s John Burn-Murdoch shows.

Mr Corbyn has very little to lose and tonight’s debate will offer him the first major opportunity to seize the narrative of the campaign.

So expect him to come out swinging.

Emoticon And we are off

The two contenders are on the stage. They will begin with an opening statement.

Corbyn: The Tories have failed

The debate has started and Jeremy Corbyn has opened proceedings with a broadside aimed at the Conservatives.

He told viewers the election gave them “a real choice” about the future before laying into the Tories’ record in government.

The Conservative government is failing. It has failed on the economy, the climate crisis, the NHS and Brexit

“We can do better than this,” he said.

Johnson: Get Brexit done

No surprises here. Boris Johnson reminds us that he thinks the election is only taking place to “get Brexit done” and unblock a deadlocked parliament.

He promises a Tory government would be able to “get on with the peoples’ priorities” once this “national misery” of Brexit is over.

He repeats his claim that a Corbyn-led government would lead to further votes on Brexit and Scotland.

The phrase “dither and delay” is rolled out for the first time tonight. Expect it to come out again and again.

How long will Brexit last?

Brexit is first on the agenda, with an audience member questioning the candidates on how long the process will last.

Boris Johnson said under a Conservative government the country would “certainly” leave the EU on January 31 and said the alternative is “dither and delay” under his opponent.

Jeremy Corbyn responded by reiterating Labour’s position that a new deal would be reached with Europe under his party, before being put back to the people, with the option to stay in the bloc.

No shocks from either opener

This from Sebastian Payne, who will be providing snap analysis throughout tonight’s proceedings:

The opening statements by Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were exactly as expected: the prime minister focused on his pitch to “get Brexit done” before investing in public services, while the opposition leader focused on the issues he wanted to tackle in society with no mention of the Brexit issue.

Both were delivered in their typical style voters will be used to, with middling levels of passion.

Getting Brexit done?

The two candidates are now debating Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn attacks the government’s Brexit deal, and Boris Johnson’s proposed relationship with Europe after Brexit. He says Labour would offer “a firm and good trading relationship with Europe”.

Mr Johnson asks repeatedly which side would Mr Corbyn campaign for in a second referendum: leave or remain?

Mr Corbyn does not answer, repeatedly. He says he would implement the result of the second referendum that a Labour government would hold.

Mr Corbyn questions whether Mr Johnson can genuinely agree a trade deal with the EU by December 2020. Many trade experts also see the timetable as extremely optimistic.

You are not going to get it done in a few months, and you know that perfectly well.

Mr Johnson says: “We have ample time to do a new trade deal.”

Is the NHS for sale?

That didn’t take long.

We have moved on from Brexit to the NHS, with Jeremy Corbyn gesturing to paperwork and insisting that the prime minister has agreed with Donald Trump that the health service would be fair game in any trade deal with the US.

But Boris Johnson hit back that “our NHS will never be for sale”, either under his government or any other Conservative government.

Mr Corbyn retorted:

Why did his government agree with the US that there should be full market access for United States companies into our National Health Service?

Is the union with Scotland worth sacrificing for Brexit?

We are onto the next question. Jeremy Corbyn said the government’s Brexit deal creates questions about Northern Ireland’s status.

Boris Johnson replied that his Brexit deal keeps the UK intact. Then he is back onto the Conservative’s favourite attack line: the prospect of a Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party.

Mr Corbyn said that is “nonsense” and rules out a deal with the SNP, and support for a Scottish independence referendum in the “early years” of a Labour government. Mr Johnson points out that Mr Corbyn did not rule out a referendum entirely.

Mr Johnson directly says the union with Scotland is “of course” more important than Brexit.

Northern Ireland next on the agenda

Northern Ireland is up next and the case that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal creates a form of border down the Irish Sea, despite his insistence to the Democratic Unionist party previously this would not happen.

But the prime minister rejected this assertion and looked to deflect elsewhere, insisting his Brexit deal “means that the whole of the UK can come out and do free trade deals around the world”.

He added:

What the people of Northern Ireland don’t know and nor do the people of Ireland is what kind of deal Jeremy Corbyn will do.

But Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t letting the point go, insisting the prime minister had reneged on his promise to the DUP conference:

He said there would be no border down the Irish sea. Well there is [in his deal]

Johnson has the upper hand so far

The first 15 minutes feel like they belonged to Boris Johnson, writes the FT’s Robert Shrimsley.

This is his strong suit so he ought to be better on Brexit, but he has pushed Jeremy Corbyn into a corner on a second Brexit referendum and on a new Scottish independence vote.

He brushed aside the Trump trade deal attack line on the NHS being up for grabs in a US trade deal and he exposed the confusion in Labour’s Brexit policy by pushing the Labour leader on which side he would campaign in a second Brexit referendum.

Mr Corbyn may rally when we move onto domestic social policy but the prime minister has certainly started strongest.

How can we trust you?

A first question from the crowd.

The audience member asks: “How can we trust you?” to a round of applause.

Boris Johnson said he believes trust has been corroded by parliament’s refusal to honour the 2016 Brexit vote, and blames Labour for blocking Brexit. (Parliament voted in principle for Mr Johnson’s deal but rejected the unusually tight timetable.)

Jeremy Corbyn deals with the question in a different way. He said trust is something to be earned and that leadership is about listening to people and bringing them together.

Asked whether the truth matters, Mr Johnson is laughed at by the audience when he said “it does”. Someone shouts “tell the truth.”

The strategies so far

The strategies of both candidates are clear, Sebastian Payne writes.

The aim of Boris Johnson is to mention the word “Brexit” as much as possible, followed by his slogan of “getting it done” by the end of January (although that would not be the case – the long term trade deal and points towards another cliff edge in the middle of 2020). He is also trying to point out as much as possible that his Labour rival has not said how he would campaign in a future referendum.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, is trying not mention the word Brexit as much as possible and is trying to pivot back to domestic issues as much as possible. He has talked of “trying to bring people together” but has struggled to land his argument. As we almost reach the half-way point, it feels like Mr Johnson is making more headway.

Personal integrity in the spotlight

The candidates are being grilled on personal integrity now, with the presenter insisting the “nastiness” in the debate had got out of control.

Julie Etchingham asked Jeremy Corbyn to address the criticism of antisemitism within the Labour party and Boris Johnson to give his response to accusations he had “betrayed every person you had any dealings with”.

Mr Corbyn lashed out on the question of antisemitism in the Labour party:

Anti-semitism is an absolute evil and scourge on our society.

He said he had taken action on the issue, expelling or suspending anyone found guilty of it.

For his part, Mr Johnson said his opponent’s response had left him “open mouthed” but avoided addressing the point about his own integrity.

Asked by Ms Etchingham to display a gesture of goodwill, the two men shook hands as the programme broke for ads.

What happens during the ad breaks?

We’ve made it to the commercial break.

Earlier, Julie Etchingham revealed some behind the scenes gossip over what has happened in these breaks in the past.

She said party leaders have reacted to the breaks in different ways, with some choosing to stay at their lecterns to compose themselves, but the more relaxed coming into the audience to chat to the public.

In a two-hour debate in 2015, producers accompanied candidates on the walk to toilet breaks to make sure “nobody ran off and decided not to come back”. Which would be quite a story tonight.

We are back, and on to the NHS

A doctor has asked a question about health funding and said he has seen the troubles in the NHS first hand.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest ground. He said the health service is “one of the most civilised things about this country” and is under great pressure. He offered a personal story of the death of a friend who died after waiting for cancer treatment.

Boris Johnson said he is determined to fund the NHS in the long term, and touts £34bn of investment and 40 new hospitals (a contested claim).

Mr Johnson said the NHS would never be up for sale in any trade deals, and is not facing privatisation.

What could be more ruinous for the NHS than a crackpot plan for a four day week?

Some members of the audience laughed when Mr Corbyn said a four-day working week would lead to increased productivity.

Tories will cover social care in their manifesto

Boris Johnson said there will be a new policy on social care in his party’s manifesto.

A botched policy on this very topic, later dropped, started Theresa May’s electoral meltdown in 2017.

Leaders quizzed on spending pledges

An audience member asks how the leaders, having “never had to worry about money” can reassure people about their spending plans and whether they can guarantee they won’t waste government funds on electoral gambits.

Jeremy Corbyn said a decade of austerity, an explosion of debt and an increase in billionaires had hurt the country under the current government.

He said a Labour government would end zero-hours contracts, implement an investment strategy to boost manufacturing.

Mr Johnson said it all comes back to Brexit: “If we fail to get Brexit done then the economy will suffer.”

Both leaders said austerity was over. But a quip from Julie Etchingham over whether both had found a new magic money tree drew laughs from the crowd.

Quick fire round

Now we are on to a “quick fire section” on a variety of issues.

First up: is the monarchy fit for purpose?

Jeremy Corbyn – “needs a bit of improvement.” Some applause, some boos. Boris Johnson said the monarchy is beyond reproach.

On Prince Andrew, Mr Corbyn offers condolences to the victims of Jeffrey Epstein. Mr Johnson said the law must take its course.

How big an issue is climate change?

Both leaders agree climate change is a major issue “for the entire world”.

Boris Johnson said his government had the most far-reaching ambition to get to carbon neutral by 2050, but that this could only happen after getting Brexit done .

Jeremy Corbyn said the country needed a “green industrial revolution” to solve the climate crisis.

Which current foreign leader do you most admire?

Boris Johnson, in a curveball, said the EU27 who offered him a “fantastic deal”.

Jeremy Corbyn said it is António Guterres, the general secretary of the UN, who is “trying to bring the world together”.

Christmas presents

Given the season, the leaders were asked what presents they would consider getting each other.

Mr Corbyn says he would give Mr Johnson A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Then he can understand how nasty Scrooge was.

Mr Johnson said he would give his opponent “a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal”.

When shouted down, he said some Damson jam. Mr Corbyn looked quite pleased with that.

Concluding statements

Jeremy Corbyn said the debate illustrates the real choice at this election, and urges people to register to vote.

“This is a once-in-a-generation election” over investment, Brexit and the climate emergency, he said.

I ask that you vote for hope, and vote for Labour on the 12th of December.

Johnson: ‘End the dither and the delay’

Boris Johnson ended proceedings by urging voters to “end the dither and the delay, the deadlock and the divisions” and elect a Conservative majority government.

He said Mr Corbyn could not “answer the fundamental questions” as to whether “he is for Remain or Leave” and “what price he would pay” for the backing of the Scottish National party.

Mr Johnson closed on Brexit, and “getting it done” so the country could move on.

Emoticon It is all over

The two leaders are finished.

The programme only showed a few moments of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn standing rigidly behind their lecterns before cutting to the credits, but no sign of an immediate handshake.

FT analysis: A zero-sum game

Here is Sebastian Payne:

The debate was a zero-sum game. Nobody learned or gained anything. Both candidates resorted to soundbites and simplistic arguments. No real debate on policy.

But in the dynamics of the general election, Jeremy Corbyn needed to make gains and he didn’t. So Boris Johnson emerged on top.

Tory press Twitter accounts rebrands as ‘factchecking’ service

The Conservative party press office’s official Twitter account has rebranded itself ‘factcheckUK’ and is pumping out pro-Tory messages.

Given that many users on the social media site may well mistake the account for an independent or unbiased service, that is a questionable piece of campaigning.

Emoticon Debate a score draw – instant poll

There was no clear winner.

That’s the verdict of a snap poll by YouGov, who asked: “Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight’s debate?”

51 per cent said Boris Johnson, while 49 per cent said Jeremy Corbyn.

The debate continues on the sidelines

It wouldn’t be a political debate without a post-match brawl.

The Conservatives’ Michael Gove has been sparring with Labour co-national campaign co-ordinator, Andrew Gwynne, over the opposition party’s Brexit position.

Mr Gove has been pushing Mr Gwynne’s buttons on the BBC over how he would campaign on a Labour-renegotiated Brexit deal: for Leave or Remain.

So you would vote for leaving? You would be on the separate side to Diane Abbott?

In a heated exchange, Mr Gwynne said a fresh vote was needed to “heal a divided nation”. “What are you afraid of?” he repeatedly asked Mr Gove, insisting a second referendum was the “democratic” thing to do.

You created a big mess in this country Michael. Let’s heal a divided nation.

“I thought you wanted to bring people together,” Mr Gove retorted. “You can’t even bring your own shadow cabinet together.”

FT analysis: No revelations, no enlightening exchanges

Here is the verdict on tonight’s showdown from Sebastian Payne:

The first TV debate of the 2019 election game was a zero-sum gum. Neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn landed any blows. Neither candidate to be the UK’s next prime minister engaged in any serious debate. There were no policy revelations, no enlightening exchanges. Instead only facile soundbites that we have heard many times before.

The first half of the debate was dominated by Brexit, which favoured Mr Johnson. His “get Brexit done” slogan – repeated as often as possible in every exchange to the point of annoyance – is clear and speaks directly to the Leave supporters he needs to win this election.

The prime minister also scored points against his opponent by pointing out Mr Corbyn has not said whether he wants to Remain or Leave the EU. The Labour leader looked uncomfortable during the Brexit exchanges and tried to move onto domestic matters, albeit with limited success.

On the National Health Service, Mr Corbyn was stronger. After all it is natural territory for the Labour party and his arguments against privatisation went down well with the audience. But the attacks were blunted by the Tories’ own promises of a spending splurge. He did better by attacking their record in office over the last nine years.

FT analysis: Corbyn failed to punch through

Some more insight from Sebastian Payne:

What was remarkable about the debate was how unenlightening it was. Voters will have learnt almost nothing new about their next prime minister and I imagine plenty of undecideds will be feeling just as confused as before. Mr Johnson was more energetic than his rival, who almost appeared bored at times.

The campaign so far has Mr Johnson way ahead of his Labour rival – as high as 15 points according to some opinion polls. The prime minister did not trip up; he was more focused and his arguments were clearer than in past appearances. Bluster was at a minimum, but nor did he have much fresh to say. So, almost by default, he emerged on top.

Mr Corbyn needed to punch through tonight and he failed. His hopes of reviving the Labour campaign now rest on the manifesto launch on Thursday. If that does not generate some momentum for the party, then its campaign may be in serious trouble.

Tory HQ changes Twitter account back

The Conservative party’s decision to rebrand its media Twitter account as ‘FactCheckUK’ and pump out a stream of anti-Labour content has come in for criticism.

The party has now changed it back to its usual format.

Speaking to Sky News, Tory party chairman James Cleverly said it was “absolutely clear” that the account was an official party feed.

Here is a reminder of how it looked:

Match report: No Corbyn breakthrough in a high-stakes duel

The FT’s political editor, George Parker, was in Salford for tonight’s debate and has written up a comprehensive take:

Boris Johnson survived a high-stakes televised duel with Jeremy Corbyn, with a snap opinion poll suggesting that he had narrowly beaten his Labour opponent in the most dramatic encounter in the election campaign to date.

Mr Corbyn, desperately needing to gain political momentum, put in a solid performance and scored some points against the prime minister, but the hour-long televised debate did not give him the breakthrough he sought.

A YouGov survey of more than 1,000 viewers of the ITV debate found that 51 per cent thought that Mr Johnson, who focused relentlessly on Brexit, had put in the best performance, with 49 per cent saying Mr Corbyn had won the contest.

“Corbyn needed a game changer and didn’t get one,” said one ally of Mr Johnson, who admitted that the prime minister was taking a risk as the frontrunner in the election in going head to head with Mr Corbyn, his principal rival.

With little more than three weeks until polling day on December 12, YouGov’s national survey puts the Tories on 42 per cent, Labour on 30 and the Liberal Democrats on 15. Such a vote share on election night would give Mr Johnson a Commons majority.

Read George’s full take here

That’s it for tonight

One debate down.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn set out their electoral stalls in a series of heated exchanges in the ITV face-off, but in truth the state of the campaign doesn’t look a whole lot different to how it did two hours ago.

We are going to leave it there for tonight. But if you are not yet ready to turn in, the leaders of the smaller parties have just begun an interview-based show on ITV, in which they will respond to tonight’s main event and make their own pitches to voters.

We will be back again for more first thing tomorrow. See you then.