James Forsyth

Tories pushing for Boris Johnson v Jeremy Corbyn TV debates

Tories pushing for Boris Johnson v Jeremy Corbyn TV debates
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Boris Johnson’s best route to a majority is turning the election into a question of whether you want him or Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, I say in The Sun this morning. Polling shows that 43% of voters regard a Corbyn premiership as the worst outcome to the current crisis, compared to 35% for no deal. If Boris Johnson can get the vast majority of that 43% to vote Tory, then he’ll get the majority he so desperately needs.

This desire to frame the election as a choice between Boris Johnson and Theresa May means that he is taking a very different approach to TV debates than Theresa May did. I understand that negotiations have already begun with the broadcasters and the Tories have made clear that they’ll do as many head to heads with Jeremy Corbyn as possible. They hope that a series of televised debates between Corbyn and Johnson will make voters focus on the question of which of this pair they want as Prime Minister.

Number 10 were blindsided by the opposition’s refusal to back an election that they had been calling for. The denial of an October 15th election  is a significant blow to them. But despite the series of defeats that Boris Johnson has suffered in parliament this week, Number 10 think that they have got something out of it. As one Boris confidant puts it, ‘The public increasingly realise that MPs and Jeremy Corbyn want to delay and Boris wants to get this done. That’s good for us and bad for them.’

Emphasising that if he isn’t, Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister is also Boris Johnson’s best chance of keeping those Tories worried about no deal on side. If you are a Tory and concerned about the economic effects of no deal, then you’ll be fearful about what a Corbyn government would do to the economy—and your taxes.

As I say in the magazine this week, going for an election is a big gamble by Boris Johnson and the opposition’s refusal to grant him one before this extension legislation kicks in is a significant blow. But if Boris Johnson can turn the election into a choice between him and Corbyn then he can win it.