LONDON – Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn outperformed expectations in a crucial television debate against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the U.K.’s general election on Dec. 12.
The opposition leader, who has been lagging behind Johnson in personal approval ratings, almost tied with the prime minister in a snap poll on which candidate won the contest on Tuesday night.
The YouGov/Sky News survey of 1,600 people gave Johnson the narrowest victory, with 51 percent saying he won the debate, against 49 percent saying Corbyn performed best.
That was a significant turnaround for Corbyn, 70. He went into the election campaign with a net satisfaction rating of minus 60, by far the lowest comparable score since IpsosMORI started tracking the ratings in 1979. Johnson’s score stood at plus 2 when the figures were compiled at the end of October.
The YouGov verdict followed an hour of clashes between the two men vying to lead the U.K. in what is one of the highest stakes elections in recent British history.
When voters cast their ballots next month, they will face a choice between Johnson’s promise to deliver a speedy Brexit and Corbyn’s pledge to call another referendum on European Union membership that could ultimately allow the divorce to be canceled.
Corbyn won applause and landed punches against Johnson, who struggled against an audience that laughed and jeered as he tried to steer the topic back to Brexit.
In the most telling moments, Corbyn likened the prime minister to the miserly Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’s classic short story, “A Christmas Carol,” and attacked the British monarchy over its handling of Prince Andrew’s friendship with the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
While he struggled to shake off allegations that anti-semitism is rife inside the Labour Party, Corbyn was applauded for promising to end the privatization of the state-run National Health Service.
While Corbyn fared better than expected this time, his party remains stuck more than 10 points behind the Conservatives in the polls. It was only one debate, and more are planned, including another head-to-head between the two leaders on Dec. 6.