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No one won the 2019 General Election debate - so Tories stay in poll position

PUBLISHED: 11:30 20 November 2019

Newscaster Julie Etchingham, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn after the Election head-to-head debate on ITV. Picture: ITV/PA Wire

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Newscaster Julie Etchingham, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn after the Election head-to-head debate on ITV. Picture: ITV/PA Wire .

Watching this week's 2019 General Election debate reminded me so much of watching a Champion's League second-leg match between two heavyweight teams where one starts 3-0 ahead after the first skirmish.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly trying to keep an eye on what his Twitter team are up to in the Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly trying to keep an eye on what his Twitter team are up to in the "spin room" after the first election debate. Picture: Amy Brammell/ITV/PA Wire

All the opinion polls and, I have to say, the sentiment I have detected in the country tells me that the Conservatives are well ahead in the race to Number 10.

I'm not saying they deserve to be. In my view there are massive holes in the campaigns of all the major parties. But there's a reason why the bookies make Mr Johnson and his team firm favourites to win on December 12.

All he had to do in the debate was avoid making any terminal gaffes. In the event both he and Mr Corbyn had minor wobbles when the audience laughed at them - but it was nothing really serious. Possibly we should call it a 1-1 draw. Which was enough for Mr Johnson and the Tories to consolidate their position.

What is extraordinary is that the coverage has been dominated by the fact that the 12-year-olds left in charge of Conservative Central Headquarters' Twitter feed thought it would be a jolly jape to rebrand it "Factcheck UK."

It's a decision which has resulted in a reprimand from the Electoral Commission and the threat from Twitter to remove their coveted Blue Tick which is supposed to show they are a genuine site.

Frankly after the debacle of their doctoring the interview of Sir Keir Starmer to make it look as if he was struggling to answer questions, you'd have thought they would have learned that trying to twist the truth will be exposed in 2019.

Yet all they succeeded in doing was confirming that those running the Tories' official feed cannot be trusted with anything.

What was really extraordinary was that Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb told the BBC: "No one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust."

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In which case why do the Tories have an official Twitter account whose only purpose seems to be to bring the party into disrepute?

But in the end the Twitter row is all a bit of froth - and I'm not sure it will have much traction with the swing voters in places like Ipswich which has the only voters that really matter in the general election in this part of the world.

Although there is lots of activity in the estates around the town with local party volunteers being boosted by party members from around the area, there really hasn't been a great deal of political cut and thrust - apart from a few volunteers who appear to be running their own campaigns on social media.

There have been Tweets from Tories outraged that Sandy Martin is drawing attention to the fact that he attended more Westminster debates than any other Suffolk MP over the last two years. Surely that is quite a reasonable statistic for his supporters to use.

While Labour Twitter users have been trying to make something of the fact that Dr Therese Coffey hasn't been to quite so many debates (the fact that she's a cabinet minister with a government department to oversee might have something to do with that!).

But what affect does all this background noise have on the average floating voter - apart from convincing them that many political activists are Twitter nerds who really ought to get a life?

I must admit I get a little bit fed up when people tag me on Twitter to tell me what I should or should not be reporting - especially when they hide behind frankly ridiculous pseudonyms which give me no clue to who they really are!

Take it from me. I'm fully conversant with the Representation of the People Act, how it affects the coverage regional newspapers and websites can give during election campaigns - and our own commitment to be fair and realistic in our coverage of the campaign.

Being in the middle of my eighth general election campaign, albeit with new technology at my disposal, I think I know what I'm doing and I'm reasonably encouraged by the fact that people from many parties have told me they feel they are getting fair coverage.

It seems as if for some people social media really has become a sounding board to tell the world (or at least anyone they tag) their innermost feelings. At least when this was restricted to the bar you could get away from the political bore (or any other kind of bore you mention) by moving to the other side of the room!

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