‘Teflon Boris’: What will it take to derail the Tory campaign?

Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

Last night, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson went head-to-head in the first televised debate of the general election. If you weren’t glued to your telly last night you missed, well… not an awful lot. There were sadly no campaign-derailing gaffes from Johnson, and both parties came away reasonably pleased with how the event went.

Brexit inevitably dominated the first half of the debate. Johnson diligently stuck to his “two referendums” attack on Labour’s Brexit position, but Corbyn did well to move the conversation on to the seven years it would take to negotiate a trade deal and pivot towards the NHS. The second half saw Corbyn comfortably outperform Johnson, offering strong responses on the NHS, bringing in a personal story to make his point. He also provided an altogether more human response to a question about the Prince Andrew scandal. Corbyn really seemed to relax by the end, joking that he’d give Johnson a copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens this Christmas.

In one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the night, Johnson responded to a question about the monarchy to say the institution is “beyond reproach”. With a wry smile, the Labour leader quipped that the monarchy “needs a bit of improvement”. Corbyn appeared to have read the mood of the room better on that one, receiving a cheer from the crowd while the Prime Minister’s answer left the audience silent.

In a bizarre and Orwellian turn last night, the Conservative press office rebranded their Twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ and tweeted endorsements of their policies throughout the debate. The account removed any obvious signs of the party in an attempt to appear as an impartial fact-checking service throughout the debate. Just one more example of how the Tories are willing to deal in fake news to win. And Twitter has simply let them off with a warning.

But what does this all mean for the election? Well, YouGov polling reported that when asked whether the leaders had done well, 67% answered in the affirmative for Corbyn compared to only 59% for Johnson. But when asked who won, Johnson polled at 51% compared to 49% for Corbyn.

The Labour leader put in a strong performance but the polling perhaps reflects, worryingly, the ‘Teflon Boris’ phenomenon. While Corbyn’s more natural style struck the right note last night, the question still stands: what will it take to cut through Johnson’s baffling ability to carry on, electorally unharmed, despite dirty tricks and stunning mediocrity?

Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

More from LabourList