The election hasn’t seen as many twists and turns as a political junkie might hope. But all of that might change tonight. I mean, it probably won’t, but there’s a chance.
Why? Because tonight is the final debate ahead of the election: A straight head-to-head between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
“Basically Corbyn’s got one last shot,” observed one anonymous Tory staffer yesterday when speaking to Politico, “He has to change the narrative on Friday or he’s done.”
And this is definitely the case. As things currently stand, Labour still lag significantly behind the Conservatives and realistically the best the party party can hope for now is denying Johnson a majority. But the gap in the polls is such that, if things stay as they are, the Tory majority could be very comfortable indeed.
The debate is Corbyn’s last chance for a game-changing moment. If he can be seen to decisively win against his rival, maybe Corbyn could earn the viral momentum required to blunt the Tories. One of the reasons the Liberal Democrats performed so well in 2010 (picking up 62 seats) is partially down to then leader Nick Clegg’s performance in the debates: He was able to present himself as a fresh face, and by most accounts he “won”. Conversely, if he doesn’t do anything to change the dynamic, then he should probably start drafting his resignation speech for the morning of December 13th.
In a sense, it is slightly odd that tomorrow’s debate is happening at all. Leader debates are new to British politics, so the norm has not quite embedded. In 2015 and 2017, we saw politicians shift the format around to suit their interests: In 2015, David Cameron refused to debate Ed Miliband one-on-one, and only took part in a debate with the six other party leaders, to avoid giving Ed equal stature to that of the Prime Minister. In 2017, there were no direct head to head debates between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn – the best the broadcasters could manage were back-to-back interviews.
Crucially, in 2010, the only reason the debates were able to happen at all is because Labour and the Tories were roughly level in the polls – and so it was within the interests of both sides to look for a breakout moment.
And this is why it is so curious that Boris Johnson agreed for two debates up front with Jeremy Corbyn. Johnson has such a commanding poll lead that all the debate does is roll the dice when they do not need to be rolled. The best case scenario for Johnson tomorrow night is that he retains what he already has. And the worst case scenario? He might just debate himself out of office.