Overall pitch

Boris Johnson He’s only been in power for 120 days, so please don’t blame him for other Conservative governments, even when he served in them. Other than that – the same, well-drilled attack lines on an end to austerity, and “delivering Brexit”.

Jeremy Corbyn A sensible pragmatist, not the social firebrand of tabloid reputation. His broad message was that Labour will stake out a middle ground on Brexit – with a key new line on him staying neutral in a second referendum – and invest heavily in vital infrastructure and public services.

Jo Swinson Anti-Brexit, anti-austerity, hostile to Johnson and Corbyn. Swinson tried her now-familiar pitch, but was regularly forced onto the defensive by an often belligerent audience. She gave ground when needed, for example on her voting record in the coalition government, and her aspirations to be prime minister.

Nicola Sturgeon For the domestic audience, suitably stern on independence issues. For those elsewhere in the UK, seeking to come across as a reasonable and human voice of a modern, non-xenophobic sort of independence.

Boris Johnson



Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC

Best line

BJ None in particular – and that would be the Conservative plan. As the front-runner, the prime minister did not set out to wow the audience with zingers, merely fill out his allotted hours with an unexciting, news-repelling repetition of key Tory slogans.

JC


First heard here on Question Time

Perhaps not so memorable, but in confirming Fiona Bruce’s question that he would stay neutral in a Brexit referendum, Corbyn will hope to have put to bed the Conservative attack line that he is refusing to say which side he would back in a second vote.

JS


I recognise that things have got much more challenging since Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage cooked up a deal to stitch up seats between them. I get that it is a big ask

A clever pivot from Swinson in conceding her early-election talk of becoming prime minister might have been overcooked.

NS


Having heard Jeremy Corbyn, do you think he’s going to walk away from the chance to end austerity, to protect the NHS, to stop universal credit, simply because he wants, for a couple of years, to prevent Scotland to have the right to self-determination?

Sturgeon is sceptical at Corbyn’s insistence he would deny an independence vote for the first few years of a Labour government even if he was relying on the Scottish National party’s support.

Jeremy Corbyn



Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC

Strategy

BJ Keep it boring. Johnson kept to his usual, Just a Minute-style method of trying to run down the clock with long, tedious answer, trying to bore the audience into, if not acquiescence, then at least torpidity.

JC Polite to a fault, avuncular, responsible-seeming, Corbyn even at one point brandished Labour’s “grey book” of election costings. He was at pains to thank every questioner and comment-maker from the audience, even the hostile ones.


JS What strategy Swinson set out with was largely sidelined by an immediately and consistently hostile audience, into which the Question Time researchers had seemingly forgot to invite the Liberal Democrat supporters. She battled hard, and delivered her lines confidently, but it felt like an uphill task.

NS Seeking to appear as an adult in the room. Policy-wise, Sturgeon’s approach was largely dictated by the audience focus on specific aspects of independence. She sought to deal with them evenly, but as an issue – as with Brexit – most voters are likely to be beyond being persuaded from one side to another.

Jo Swinson



Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC

Worst moment

BJ A series of questions about claims of racism in articles he wrote as a journalist. The PM tried, as ever, to claim elements were taken out of context and mount a general defence of free speech, but got a frosty reception, particularly from an audience member who argued his treatment of burqa-wearers in print did not speak of someone who supported women.

JC Essentially, the first 10 minutes, almost without halt. A very much up-for-it Sheffield audience launched questions on his prior backing for ousted Bolivian leader Evo Morales, and antisemitism and misogyny in Labour. One questioner in particular pressed Corbyn with very detailed questions on the heckling of Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth at the launch of a report into antisemitism.

JS In truth, there were quite a few. Possibly the worst of the aggressive questioning was on the policy of revoking Brexit in the unlikely event the Lib Dems win a majority in the Commons. This is a flagship policy for the party, and seemed to win no support. Worst of all was the almost complete lack of applause for more or less any of her answers.

NS Some of the questions on the economic viability of a post-independence Scotland, and whether it would gain access to the EU given concerns such as its deficit, were slightly tricky, if perhaps sufficiently technical to prompt some neutral viewers to nip off to make a cup of tea.

Nicola Sturgeon



Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC

Unanswered questions

BJ Numerous. Johnson’s strategy is to listen to a question, reflect on it briefly, and then launch into one of his handful of agreed strategic soundbites. As ever, much of his evidence was based on his fairly distant time as mayor of London.

JC Perhaps more of a half-answered question. As noted above, Corbyn said he would be neutral in a second Brexit referendum. This does not answer the question of which side of that question he would prefer, personally.

JS Voters will have turned off their TVs none the wiser as to what, if any, arrangements Swinson might come to with other parties if the Lib Dems hold the balance of power, beyond her repeated insistence she will put neither Johnson or Corbyn into Downing Street.

NS Some of the details of how an independent Scotland would function were dealt with in a fairly vague way, but in fairness to the SNP leader, many of those details would be worked out if the process happened.


Verdict

BJ His handlers will be pleased. In part, coming last of the four, Johnson seemed lucky – a feisty Sheffield crowd seemed to have run out of energy after 90 minutes of debate. There were some tricky moments, but overall he delivered no news, evaded what difficult questions there were without too much scrutiny and did not face any particularly tricky personal questions, such as the number of children he has.

JC An appearance of two halves, or more precisely, a third and a two-thirds. The start might have alarmed Labour staffers as Corbyn faced an onslaught of hostile questions on difficult subjects. But the Labour leader did not noticeably panic, and as things moved into other subjects, and friendly voices surfaced in the audience, Corbyn gained ground and ended well.

JS Ouch. When Swinson argued vehemently to be allowed onto the debates, this was not the outing she was hoping for. She battled valiantly, but – whether by accident of those picked to speak, or highlighting wider issues for the Lib Dems – Swinson faced a largely hostile response. A difficult night.

NS A confident appearance from a skilled politician – notable when during a discussion on drugs issues she listened respectfully to a recovering addict in the audience, and won applause by asking the woman if she could pass on her details so Sturgeon could discuss the subject with her later.





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