‘A mutual rant’ - reaction from Norfolk to general election debate

Handout photo issued by ITV of newscaster Julie Etchingham, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn after th

Handout photo issued by ITV of newscaster Julie Etchingham, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn after the Election head-to-head debate on ITV, prior to the General Election on December 12. Pic: ITV/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were almost inseparable in the eyes of viewers after a series of heated exchanges during the first televised debate of the general election.

But one former Norfolk MP described it as a "mutual rant", which will not have shifted the opinion of voters.

Mr Johnson edged a snap YouGov poll 51-49, although Labour figures were pleased with the showing of their leader in the prime-time ITV slot.

The pair clashed over their rival plans for Brexit, with Mr Corbyn describing the prime minister's pledge to "get Brexit done" by the end of January as "nonsense", while Mr Johnson suggested his rival was "not fit to lead our country".

Mr Corbyn also accused the government of entering into secret talks with the US to open the NHS to American pharmaceutical companies in a future trade deal.

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But Mr Johnson hit back, denouncing the claims as "an absolute invention", insisting there were "no circumstances whatsoever" in which a Conservative government would put the NHS "on the table" in trade talks.

He said the Labour leader was trying to disguise the "void" at the heart of his Brexit policy, which meant he was unable to say which way he would vote in Labour's planned second referendum.

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He accused Mr Corbyn of being prepared to strike a deal with the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon to get the votes he needs to enter No 10 at the price of a second referendum on Scottish independence, something the Labour leader rejected.

YouGov's poll, which surveyed 1,646 viewers, also found Mr Johnson appeared more prime ministerial, although Mr Corbyn was considered more trustworthy.

But Keith Simpson, who stepped down as Conservative MP for Broadland after 22 years in the House of Commons, tweeted: "TV debate for leaders was more a mutual rant and didn't shift voters' opinion.

"No cock ups from Boris and no statesman like views from Jeremy. #PunchandJudy."

However, Elizabeth Truss, who is looking to retain her South West Norfolk seat for the Conservatives, said: "Boris smashed it. Corbyn had no answer about the key issues facing our country. He dodges responsibility. He's not fit to be prime minister."

BUt Clive Lewis, aiming to retain Norwich South for Labour, tweeted a picture of a delighted-looking Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard and said: "We needed a win tonight. We got one. #WinForCorbyn."

But Ben Goodwin, Liberal Democrat candidate for Broadland, said: "Two men with the same tired messages, failing to have a conversation. It doesn't have to be this way."

Ben Price, Green candidate for South Norfolk retweeted a Green Party tweet, which stated: "I can't believe that neither of the leaders brought up the most important issue we face. #climateelection".

Sandy Gilchrist, Brexit Party candidate for Norwich South tweeted that his party's exclusion from the debate must be challenged and added: "Neither of them are a voice for democracy. We are."

And former Norwich City star Darren Huckerby had his views on the debate. He tweeted: "Way too much clapping. It's two clowns, not Eddie Murphy."

The Conservatives also courted controversy for changing their Twitter handle to "factcheckUK" for the ITV debate, prompting fact-checking organisation Full Fact to label it "inappropriate and misleading".

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