Denis Staunton’s UK election diary – party leaders face the public

Johnson, Corbyn, Sturgeon and Swinson will each have 30 minutes of questions from a Question Time studio audience

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled his party's election manifesto, setting out radical plans to transform Britain with public sector pay rises, higher taxes on companies and a sweeping nationalisation of infrastructure.

 

One of the most memorable moments of the 2017 general election campaign came when Theresa May told a nurse who had not had a pay rise for eight years that there was no “magic money tree” to pay for higher wages.

That exchange came during a BBC Question Time leaders’ special, a format that has proved more perilous for politicians than debates or set-piece interviews.

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson will each face 30 minutes of questions from a studio audience in Sheffield in tonight’s Question Time special from 7pm on BBC One.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: his policies are more popular than he is. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: his policies are more popular than he is. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Because the questions are coming from the public, they are more difficult to dodge or deflect with bluster and cant. This could be a particular challenge for Johnson, whose strategy during Tuesday’s ITV debate with Corbyn was to use every answer to repeat his mantra about getting Brexit done and to accuse the Labour leader about lacking clarity on the issue.

But it’s one thing to talk over a political opponent or a TV moderator and quite another to show disrespect to a member of the public by ignoring their question. Corbyn will hope to use his half hour to showcase the radical policies published in Labour’s manifesto yesterday.

Corbyn’s problem is that his policies are more popular than he is, and his unpopularity undermines the credibility of Labour’s promises as voters tell pollsters they don’t believe the party could deliver on its commitments.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has perhaps the most difficult task as she seeks to turn around her party’s fortunes after weeks of decline in the polls. The Liberal Democrats have stopped pretending they can lead the next government and are instead focusing on their potential role in preventing Johnson from delivering Brexit.

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Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson is seeking to turn around her party’s fortunes. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson is seeking to turn around her party’s fortunes. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Unlike the Liberal Democrats, the SNP have not ruled out supporting a minority Labour government led by Corbyn. But Sturgeon has made clear that her price will be an early referendum on Scottish independence. Former SNP leader Alex Salmond appeared in court yesterday on multiple sexual assault charges but the legal process means any questions about the case are out of bounds. Of all the leaders on stage tonight, Sturgeon has perhaps the least to fear from the public’s questions.

Recommended reads

My take on Labour’s manifesto.

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian says the “electrifying” manifesto should jolt the election into life.

Robert Peston says Corbyn has all but declared class war.

George Parker in the FT on the “appalling choice” facing Remain voters in London.

Quote of the day

“Patriotism is about supporting each other, not attacking somebody else” – Jeremy Corbyn on claims that he is not patriotic.

What’s on today

8.45am: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson visits Glasgow.

10am: Plaid Cymru launches its manifesto.

11am: Brexit Party unveils its policies.

7pm: BBC Question Time with the party leaders on BBC One.

Poll tracker

Conservatives 40.9; Labour 29.2; Liberal Democrats 15.1; Brexit 6.4; Greens 3.2; Others 5.3.

From Britain Elects

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