by Martin Odoni

What was I saying the other day about Boris Johnson making all the same mistakes Theresa May made in 2017? Well, judging by what happened tonight during the first ‘head-to-head’ television debate with Jeremy Corbyn, Johnson shows no signs of changing course.

It was the ITV debate, and their studios are in MediaCity in Salford Quays, which is a short tramride from where I live. So at the start of the evening, I joined a few hundred protesters crowded outside the studios hoping to give Johnson some renewed earache.

Anti-Johnson protest in Salford Quays

Me braving the cold in MediaCity UK to join the hecklers giving Boris Johnson an ironically hot welcome.

Well, what did you think was going to happen? But of course! As soon as he realised that lots of people were going to boo at him as he got to the front door, Johnson instructed the driver of his car to take him round to a side entrance and sneak into the building that way.

Corbyn, it also goes without saying, happily came out to speak to the crowd and shake hands. Okay, it was easier for him as most of the crowd were bound to be sympathisers. But really; remember Johnson calling Corbyn a ‘chicken’ a couple of months ago?

Boris the incredible chicken

Two can play, it seems.

My usual eloquence fails me. Get knotted, BoJob.

I must remind everyone once again though, evading the public was a dreadful weakness May showed for most of the spring and summer of 2017. I criticised her myself for refusing to speak to the public, given that, in a country that likes to call itself ‘a democracy’, politicians should be accountable to the people, especially during a General Election. How can that happen if the Prime Minister refuses to speak to them? It looks arrogant, high-handed, and cowardly, and yet Johnson is now emulating it almost daily, after his embarrassing experiences on visits to hospitals during the Autumn.

Schrodingers cameraman

Boris Johnson hapless as a member of the public has the audacity to confront him over the growing NHS crisis.

.During the debate itself, Corbyn’s oratory was solid if not exactly spectacular, conceding little ground and ready enough to correct Johnson when he lied – and of course, that was required frequently. But Johnson for his part only seemed to be half-paying attention to the questions he was being asked anyway, and was clearly determined to turn his every moment with the floor into a rather dreary loop-performance about how he is going to get Brexit done.

Again, has Johnson not learned from May, and the way she clearly alienated millions by her relentless repetition of ‘Strong & Stable’ in the early weeks, and then ‘strong economy‘ later on? He might even get away with a similar catchphrase habit if it led to him saying something substantial, but of course it does no such thing. It is just empty, one-note sloganising. It did not work two years ago, and there is no particular reason to assume it will work now.

I have seen people on social media noting that Johnson was stammering and thrashing about a little. This, yet again, is reminiscent of May, who proved to be absolutely dire at thinking on her feet during televised questioning.

Not so reminiscent of May particularly this time, but Johnson also did himself no favours by saying that the monarchy is ‘beyond reproach’. Given the trouble Prince Andrew is currently in, the confrontation with the monarchy that Johnson himself almost created in recent months, and his own tasteless history of expressing sympathy for the rich as a ‘put-upon minority’, he is letting slip just how aloof and living-in-a-different-world the Tories are compared with most ordinary Britons. Even most Brexiteers cannot avoid feeling alienated by his privileged perspective forever.

And finally there is the stupid, childish and characteristically dishonest Twitter stunt pulled by the Conservative Party during the debate, when they re-branded their feed ‘FactCheck UK’, opening up the possibility of people seeing their tweets and assuming they were published by an actual fact-checking firm. Now, it is insulting enough that the Tories would imagine significant numbers of people would be stupid enough to fall for this. But if it had worked, that would be worse, because once again the Tories have shown a pathological willingness to corrupt the democratic process to advance their power. If the Tories had actually been seeking a way of convincing the public to trust Corbyn more than their own leader, they could have found no more certain way than this.

I would say Corbyn edged the debate, as much because Johnson performed so shakily and so foolishly, as because of Corbyn’s own performance.