May vs Corbyn. Blue vs Red. Strong and Stable vs For the Many… This was a fight that had all the hype but was, in the end, a night to not really remember. Nevertheless, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May did their very best to give Britain’s got Talent (on the other channel) a run for its money in the affections of the British public on this wet Bank Holiday Monday.
It is has been a strange week in politics. The election campaign spent much of it in suspended animation while the country came to terms with tragedy that occurred in Manchester. So The Battle for Number 10 was a chance for both leaders to reboot their campaigns as we enter week 7 in this British election contest.
The weird format, concocted when Mrs May refused to debate Mr Corbyn head to head, saw each leader face a public inquisition before a one on one inquisition from Jeremy Paxman. So how did they do?
Jeremy Corbyn was first to enter the ampitheatre. His aim for the night was to convince us all that he had the right stuff to be Prime Minister. He’s certainly polished up his act, is comfortable with people and answering questions and plays the ‘humble’ card very well. He rode out potential storms (IRA and Trident) and scored some points on Brexit and education but did not say the right things on taxation and security to appeal to swing voters.
Yes more people got a look at Mr Corbyn last night and he probably won some new friends (especially after the Paxman segment!), but it needed a big performance to put him in any sort of contention for Number 10 and it wasn’t quite enough.
Theresa May was second through the door. Her job was to correct that awful wobble and it was immediately obvious that her team had prepped her to try to be more ‘normal’ for the occasion. Theresa May is described as ‘very, very dull’ by colleagues. It’s not a criticism, it’s just the way she is. She is far happier talking to script and really struggles not to show it when questions sting. Under questioning, she was predictably comfortable on security and Brexit, but sounded wooden on the NHS and was heckled on education.
However, she fared better in the one on one interview – where she swatted away the skeletons Paxman dragged from her closet (U-turns on social care and voting Remain and failing to bring immigration down) and was allowed to end on a high as the right bloody difficult woman to do the Brexit job. Mrs May didn’t set this campaign ablaze last night, but she probably did just enough to keep it on track.
The truth is, there were no big winners in this gladiatorial exhibition, but it’s safe to say that the biggest also-ran on the night was Jeremy Paxman. He once wrote the book on agitated questioning, but time away from the interview frontline showed with a very rusty performance. He did manage to beat his personal best of asking the same question twelve times (remember Michael Howard) Bombastic and OTT to the point of eccentric at times, at times it looked like he was doing his best to audition for the next series of The Nightly Show…
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.