Tonight Jeremy Corbyn faced his toughest media appearance of the campaign as he took questions from a live studio audience in the Question Time Leaders Special. Although the audience appeared more favourable to him than Theresa May at first (with the Labour leader receiving a loud whoop as he entered the stage), the format actually ended up working against him.
With audience members asking the questions rather than a presenter, Corbyn struggled to change the subject on uncomfortable topics and appeared rattled when pressed on his views on small businesses, Trident and the IRA. He also failed to alleviate Labour’s credibility problem when a voter asked him if Labour’s manifesto was an achievable wish list or ‘a letter to Santa’ — expect this clip to do the rounds tomorrow.
When an unimpressed audience member asked Corbyn about his party’s decision not to expel Ken Livingstone over anti-Semitism allegations, the Labour leader claimed that he would fight all forms of racism ‘with every fibre of being’. However, given his party’s track record here, the answer was unconvincing and the audience reaction reflected that. Another sore point for Corbyn was his promise to raise the national living wage. When one attendee expressed his concerns on the effect this would have on small businesses, Corbyn did little to ease their worries.
However, it was the questions on defence that caused Corbyn the most trouble. Asked about deaths caused by the IRA, he would only say all deaths are wrong. When quizzed about what he would do if in charge of the UK’s nuclear weapons, Corbyn appeared uncomfortable. Quizzed on what he would do if Britain was under nuclear threat, Corbyn tried to avoid the question by saying he would do everything impossible to avoid getting into that position in the first place. This didn’t wash with the audience. Several members went on to press him further about whether he would ever approve the use of a nuclear weapon – and if not, why not. Corbyn could barely hide his disapproval at the views being aired which was not a good look when one of Labour’s weak spots is defence.
On Monday night in the Sky/Channel 4 election programme, Corbyn impressed across the board with a relaxed and assured performance. Tonight he went two steps back and revealed the tetchy side of him that has largely been kept under wraps in this campaign.