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Question Time Leaders Special: An Overview

BBC Question Time Leaders Special with Nicola Sturgeon, Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson and Jeremy Corbyn.

Last night Sheffield played host to the BBC’s Question Time leaders special. The two-hour show included questions from a hostile audience directed at the Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and SNP leaders. Under the spotlight, all four were pressed on a range of issues. But how did each politician perform under the pressure?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was up first to take questions from the floor. Most significantly, Corbyn stated that he would “remain neutral” in a Brexit referendum planned by Labour therefore not campaigning for Leave or Remain. This comes after refusing nine times in the previous debate to state  where he would stand in such a referendum. Corbyn was also questioned about his failure to intervene at a press conference against an anti-semitic heckler directed at a female Labour MP. The response from Corbyn was composed but did little to diffuse anti-semitic concerns within the Labour Party. When his agenda was called “socialist” and “terrifying” by an audience member, the Labour Party leader reiterated that his plans to take the Royal Mail, railways, water industry and broadband delivery into public ownership were aimed at delivering an economy that would work for everyone.

“I will adopt as prime minister…. a neutral stance so that I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring out communities and country together, rather than continuing in endless debate about the EU and Brexit.” – Jeremy Corbyn 

Next up was leader of the Scottish National Party and Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The stand out point made was stating that she prepared to make a deal with Labour if Jeremy Corbyn committed to end austerity and agreed to hold another Scottish independence referendum. This was in response to the question about what the SNP would do if the result was a hung Parliament on December 12th. Sturgeon reiterated that the SNP would not be prepared to work with the Conservative Party. In light of the increasing drug deaths in Scotland, Sturgeon admitted more was needed to be done to reduce the number. Questions on the economic viability of a post-independence Scotland and whether it would gain access to the EU did however cause stumble from the Scottish first minister.

“I don’t want to be citizen of a country where people are dying from drug issues.” Nicola Sturgeon 

The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson seemed to take the hardest hit from the audience. Swinson was grilled on austerity and her record in government whilst in coalition with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015. She also faced sustained criticism on the Lib Dems’ policy of revoking Article 50 with one audience member attacking the policy for implying that Brexiteers were “stupid”. The Lib Dem leader responded that this was not the case and instead they clearly disagreed on the benefits of being in the EU. Her response did little to help the Lib Dems’ case. With the question on whether she regretted saying that she could be prime minister, Swinson did recognise the ridiculousness of her statement, especially with only 20 MPs at the end of last Parliament. However, she stuck strongly to the argument of offering a better alternative to Corbyn and Johnson. 

“To anybody that thinks that you can predict the outcome of the election in the middle of the campaign, ask Theresa May how that worked out last time around.” Jo Swinson

Up last was Prime Minister Boris Johnson. From the onset, it was evident that there was little respect for the current prime minister with the audience’s impatient and abrasive reaction. Johnson was notably held accountable for his racist comments made as a journalist. Indeed, such racist rhetoric from Britain’s political leader came amidst a 375% surge in Islamophobic hate crimes. From Presenter Fiona Bruce, he was challenged on his now infamous “letter boxes” article. Johnson merely defended this with the “right to speak out”. When asked why a delay was ensued on the report from the intelligence and security committee into Russian interference in elections, Johnson dismissed the topic as “Berumuda triangle stuff”. This did little to support his earlier claims that Politicians can indeed be trusted. On the NHS, the Prime Minister clung to the Conservative Party claims that the health service would receive the biggest cash injection in its history.

“There is absolutely no evidence that I know of to show any interference in any British electoral event.” Boris Johnson

The real winners of last night’s Question Time proved to be the audience. They showed that this general election is more important and full of life than ever before. Notably, as the two-hour special wore on, it became clear that the public (not the politicians) are in charge.

Mia Haffety

Featured Image courtesy of BBC Question Time via Twitter.

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