Neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn did enough in Tuesday’s debate to change the minds of many voters ahead of the Dec. 12 election. But the contest at least showed, better than any parliamentary sparring, the differences in policy vision and personal style between two men who’ve remade their parties around a central animating idea.
The debate was historic in the most prosaic sense. Americans have been televising presidential debates for decades. Britain has had its own version only since 2010, and this was the first one featuring just the leaders of Labour and the Conservatives, the two major parties. Ever since the first head-to-heads, when a relatively unknown Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg broke through, there has been nervousness among front-runners. Theresa May’s decision in 2017 to skip the debates altogether backfired badly; voters, it turns out, want to see the full job interview. Mindful of that and confident of his message, May’s successor Johnson signed up for two.