Paxo Grilling: May v Corbyn
One of Britain’s household names, the journalist Jeremy “Paxo” Paxman grilled the Labour and Tory leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, with the help of co-presenter Faisal Islam, on Monday night. The live TV debate was called May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10 and was broadcast on Sky News and Channel 4 at 8:30pm. The two leaders faced questions by a live audience—a session which lasted just over 20 minutes—followed by Paxman’s grilling for another 18 minutes. 2.9m viewers on Channel 4 and another 415k on Sky watched the debate last night.
The verdict was that the debate was a draw. Nothing new or memorable. There were a few bruises, but no punchy lines.
Like the good reliable Paxo stuffing of sage and onion, Paxman delivered a similarly decent “Jeremy Paxman” performance. Seasoned with his characteristic abrasive style, Paxman’s remarks culminated in the highlight of the evening when he dished out the following criticism to May: “If I was sitting in Brussels and I was looking at you as the person I had to negotiate with, I’d think she’s a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire.”
On a lighter note, the most searched man in social media today would be an audience member from last night’s battle for Number 10, also known as the “bol**c** man,” who mouthed the aforementioned profanity during the PM’s answer.
Both leaders showed a slightly different side. According to the BBC’s Nick Robinson, “[t]here is no consensus as to a winner, and both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are judged to have put in solid performances in the face of difficult questioning. But, given that they weren’t playing off the same par (May was miles ahead of Corbyn as a prospective prime minister until recently, and now is just comfortably ahead of him), that arguably counts as a win for Corbyn in terms of expectations.” But, he also added that she appeared “more humble and grounded” and “robust on Brexit, which many people like.”
Corbyn: I’m not a dictator
Corbyn answered questions about terrorism, saying that he wouldn’t be willing to order a drone strike without knowing the circumstances. He clarified that abolishing the British monarchy wasn’t on his agenda, saying “we’re not going to do it.” He said that Labour would end the benefits freeze but the Labour manifesto promised to spend 2bn extra a year on benefits, something that wouldn’t be enough to reverse the Tory benefits freeze. In relation to him having supported the IRA in the past by attending a commemoration for IRA members killed by the SAS, Corbyn answered that there was a period of silence for “everyone who died in Northern Ireland.”
In terms of why some of the causes he supported weren’t in the Labour manifesto and others he didn’t believe in were, he said: “I am not a dictator who tells people what to do, this is a process in our party. That is why I was elected, to give a voice to our party and its members,” he said.
May faced some hard questions by members of the audience regarding cuts, the underfunding of the NHS and school funding. She repeated her argument that “no deal is better than a bad deal” when she discussed the Brexit negotiating talks. When Paxman wondered whether she would be inclined to walk away, she said: "I think you have to. In negotiations, you have to recognise that you're not in there to get a deal at any price."
Paxman grilled her on her changes in social care, national insurance and calling for an election, but May came through unscathed. For many commentators, she performed the best when talking about Brexit and security.
For Brexit secretary David Davis, Theresa May was the clear winner:
The prime minister brought it back to the fundamentals – who is going to get the best Brexit deal, and in doing so who will be able to secure our economy, our public services and our national security. Tonight, she showed the strength and quiet determination to confront the challenges the country faces and set out the way through them. It was a strong, mature, considered performance. And it couldn’t have been more different to Jeremy Corbyn, who flannelled under pressure and couldn’t get past 30 years of words and deeds that put him on the wrong side of the British people.”
But, for a Labour spokesman:
“Theresa May floundered on her record on police cuts, on funding for our NHS and schools and on her manifesto policy on social care that didn’t last more than a few days before it was amended with an unspecified cap. It’s no surprise she had no answers because the Tories plan to continue the tax giveaways to the wealthy and big business while offering no new funding for public services. There is a clear choice in this election about the kind of country we want Britain to be: between Labour’s plan to transform Britain for the many not the few, and a Conservative party that has held people back and put its wealthy backers first.”
And a surprisingly unexpected result came from Nigel Farage, who tweeted: “I may not agree with @jeremycorbyn but he came across as being totally sincere. Paxman didn't score any goals.”
German newspapers focussed on Theresa May’s performance rather than on Corbyn, but their commentary was negative, ranging from describing her as “a speech robot who always comes out with the same slogans” or as a “worse election campaigner than expected” who was “laughed at by the public in the TV duel.”
But while European newspapers would defend European bureaucracy and attack Theresa May as the defender of Brexit, for most of our domestic writers and reporters, both leaders performed well.