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British PM and Labour leader spar over Brexit in first election debate

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn traded blows Tuesday over Brexit and the health system as they vied for votes during the first ever head-to-head TV debate.

The prime-time event, held in Manchester and broadcast on ITV, presented an opportunity for a potentially game-changing moment in an election campaign so far characterised as lacklustre.

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But neither candidate appeared to land a knockout blow in the first of several planned televised debates, some also involving other smaller parties’ leaders, ahead of the December 12 poll.

Frontrunner Johnson, who took over as the leader of the ruling Conservatives in July, relentlessly tried to keep the focus on his plan to finally take the country out of the European Union, reiterating his campaign mantra to “get Brexit done”.

“We certainly will come out on January the 31st as we have a deal that is oven-ready,” he said, also vowing to complete a future trading relationship with the bloc by 2021.

But in the testiest clashes of the hour-long debate, Corbyn said his rival’s timetable was unrealistic and that Johnson was poised to sell out Britain’s cherished National Health Service (NHS) in a future trade deal with the United States.

The veteran socialist accused Johnson of holding “a series of secret meetings with the United States in which they were proposing to open up our NHS markets… to American companies”.

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“You’re going to sell our national health service out to the United States and big pharma,” Corbyn said, waving redacted documents he said were accessed under freedom of information laws that detail preliminary UK-US negotiations.

Johnson responded that the accusations were “an absolute invention”.

“The single biggest threat to our economy and our ability to fund the NHS is our failure to get Brexit done,” he said.

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– ‘Leave or Remain?’ –

Tuesday’s debate was the first time voters had seen only the leaders of Britain’s two main parties, which between them have held power since 1922, face off on TV.

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POOL/AFP / Frank Augstein Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are campaigning on a pledge to ‘get Brexit done’

Other smaller parties were excluded this time — a format they unsuccessfully challenged in court.

Johnson has held a double-digit lead over Labour in opinion polls for weeks, making it his contest to lose.

Corbyn is seeking to repeat the success of the last election in 2017, when he came from a similar position to deny the Tories an outright win with promises to end austerity and deliver change “for the many, not the few”.

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The two leaders answered questions submitted by viewers in front of a live audience, with topics ranging from trust in politicians to the future of Scotland, as well as the British monarchy.

But the discussion repeatedly returned to Brexit — the defining issue that has paralysed British politics since the 2016 referendum.

Corbyn vowed to renegotiate Johnson’s deal and hold another referendum, appealing to around half of Britons who still oppose the result of the 2016 Brexit vote.

But the Labour leader has yet to say how he would campaign in that referendum — drawing ridicule from Johnson.

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“Are you going to campaign for Leave or Remain?”, the Conservative leader asked Corbyn, who refused to commit.

– ‘A turning point’ –

The Labour leader meanwhile sought to shift attention to inequality and the impact of a decade of Conservative spending cuts, with his party promising a swathe of nationalisations and huge investment in public services.

“I belive in investing massively in our public services,” he vowed. “I think this election is a turning point in the way we’re going to manage our economy.”

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Johnson countered with warnings that Labour would cripple the economy, although he has also promised more money for hospitals, schools and police, as well as infrastructure including broadband.

“What would be more ruinous for the NHS than a crackpot plan for a four-day week,” he said, referring to Labour’s plan to transition to remove one working day from the week within a decade.

AFP/File / Ben STANSALL Labour under Corbyn is promising a swathe of nationalizations and huge investment in public services

Johnson and Corbyn found themselves asked about the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew after he defended his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in a TV interview last week.

“There are very, very serious questions that must be answered,” the Labour leader said, as both sought to focus their replies on Epstein’s alleged victims — something Andrew was criticized for failing to do.

Meanwhile the Conservatives drew criticism online for temporarily changing the name of their Twitter account to “factcheckUK” and rebutting Corbyn’s claims.

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“No political party should be trying to cloak themselves in the guise of independent journalists,” said Ben de Pear, the editor of Channel 4 News, which runs its own @FactCheck account.

The Tory and Labour leaders will take part in several more debates involving the smaller parties, before another final head-to-head encounter on the BBC on December 6 — less than a week before election day.

Photo:ITV/AFP / Jonathan HORDLE


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Trump fears his base will turn on him if he flips and calls for nationwide mask guidelines: CNN

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On CNN Saturday, analyst Ron Brownstein outlined the key reason President Donald Trump is struggling to adapt his message to proper public health guidance on the coronavirus pandemic.

"Ron, there is a retail trade group that has asked President Trump to institute federal, nationwide mask guidelines at stores across the country as the country continues to re-open," said anchor Alex Marquardt. "Experts are saying that masks could save thousands of lives in the coming months. Do you see a scenario in which — any chance in which he would issue that?"

"I think the short answer is no, and for a revealing reason," said Brownstein. "He is in a trap of his own construction. On coronavirus, we talk all the time about how President Trump's base is bonded to him, immovably. He's also bonded to the base in the other direction, that he is very reluctant to get out crosswise with a base that includes the kind of people that showed up at the Michigan capital to protest lockdown without wearing masks and waving Confederate flags and carrying automatic weapons."

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2020 Election

Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead

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There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode

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As Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, the residents of the state are facing obstacles like overwhelmed hospitals and a looming shortage in beds.

This article first appeared in Salon.

There are 47,663 hospital beds in the state right now with 11,782 available (meaning a remaining capacity of 19.82 percent) and a total staffed bed capacity of 59,445, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's Hospital Bed Capacity Dashboard. The state Department of Health also reported on Friday that, out of 95,300 individuals who received coronavirus test results over the course of the previous day, 11,433 tested positive for COVID-19 (all but 90 of whom were Florida residents), meaning that more than 12 percent of the new cases had positive test results. The state also reported 93 new deaths due to COVID-19. (Salon reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment on this story.)

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