We’re heading for the season of goodwill and being kind to all.

But tonight the election battle-lines are threatening to cut through any joie de vivre as Prime Minister Boris Johnson goes head to head with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the first televised debate of the campaign.

Now, an expert from the University of Sunderland has told how the two dominant figures in British politics will have to adopt some Christmas spirit of their own if they are to win the festive face-off.

Dr Peter Hayes, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University, said: “The impact of an election in December is about more than whether or not folk will be able to cope with getting to a polling booth in the dark – of course they will.

“It’s about how the main parties respond to the spirit of Christmas.  For each season of the year has its own spirit.  Spring, when elections are usually held, is governed by the spirit of renewal, and the party that wins will present is leader as somehow reborn.

“The spirit of Christmas, however, has two sides to it and the party that wins will have to project a leadership that appeal to them both.

“The spirit of Christmas is first a spirit of generosity, of giving, of the wholesome joys of family life, of inviting lonely old relatives to stay.

“Second, the spirit of Christmas is one of excess: of too much food, too much drink, of the office party and the office fling.

“The difficulty for the main parties is that their political leaders each embody just one side of the Christmas spirit.

“Jeremy Corbyn represents the spirit of generosity.  He has called tirelessly for a kinder state, for the end to the scrooge-like austerity of the Tories.  And with his advanced years and white beard, he could even pass for Father Christmas, albeit a little thinner.

“By contrast, Boris Johnson with his life-and-soul-of-the-party flamboyance, and his colourful personality, represents the spirit of excess.”

According to Dr Hayes, the challenge facing each leader is to recreate their persona so that they also seem to capture the other side of the spirit of Christmas.

He added: “Corbyn has to demonstrate that he too can be a bit of a lad. Johnson has to demonstrate that he has a higher and more generous spirit than one that pursues only its own gratification.”

Peter Hayes is senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sunderland.  He is author of The Present: A Christmas Story

Johnson vs Corbyn: The ITV debate kicks off tonight at 8pm.