Tim Farron, Photograph by Dominc Dudley, Shutterstock

Perhaps what viewers will remember from last night’s first TV election debate on ITV, is that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn weren’t present. And of course, the Leanne Wood line of the night: “I’m not Natalie.” 

After Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, repeatedly called Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood, Natalie, she had to remind him that she was Leanne. Maybe Nuttall had mistaken Leanne with the American actress Natalie Wood, who drowned during a boat trip with her husband Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern in 1981. But, even this gaffe didn’t manage to entertain audiences, who took to social media to voice how boring the two-hour debate was. 

The ITV Leaders’ Debate featured five of Britain’s party political leaders: Tim Farron of the Lib Dems, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP, Leanne Wood from Plaid Cumru, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Paul Nuttall from Ukip. The debate took place in Salford and was hosted by Julie Etchingham. It was described by the Daily Mail as the “worst episode of Take Me Out ever” and a “borefest.” 

Usually, when the two main candidates appear on TV, they would talk about things that matter and they would be heard because they are the two people that count or have the authority. But when politicians, who don’t have that kind of authority, appear on TV, viewers don’t really feel that the things they talk about really matter, even if they might possibly be equally important or even more intelligent. As Severin Carrell said, “The only two party leaders with a realistic chance of becoming prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, have declined to appear – further highlighting the weakness of this format, in which the speakers spent much of the debate virtue-signalling, untested.” 

Despite the dullness of the debate, something that came as close to the tedium of watching a three-hour Theo Angelopoulos’ film, most political journalists commended Caroline Lucas’ responses as making sense and being more modern. Others pointed out Nicola Sturgeon’s professionalism, but it was obvious that the three women stood out as more experienced and confident, whereas the two male politicians, Nuttall and Farron  just didn’t come across as poised or prepared. 

Tim Farron who shared cringing family stories and stared right into the camera and deep into the souls of the viewers, said that May’s decision not to appear shows that she thinks she “owns this election” and she “owns the result”, too.  He said that the UK should have the choice to remain within the EU and repeated his call for holding another referendum on the final deal to keep Britain within the EU: “The Brexit negotiation between Brussels and London will have outcomes none of us can predict. That means that at the end you should have the final say.” 

Caroline Lucas also supported the view of Britain staying within the EU and stressed the importance of free movement: “It's a wonderful thing that we can live and work and be in these other member states.” She added that it was a shame that May wasn’t present to defend her “cruel and callous” government. 

Nicola Sturgeon accused Theresa May’s “Hard Brexit” and her belief that no deal is better than a bad deal. For Sturgeon, May’s threats “to walk away from any deal” “would be an economic catastrophe.”

Paul Nuttall, unlike the other speakers, repeated the Brexiteers’ promises for striking trade deals after Brexit and defended the will of the people: “The bottom line is this, the people have voted - they voted to leave the EU, to leave the single market, and Tim can cry about it all he wants.” He was described as the “ambassador for Theresa May” by Farron, who also attacked Ukip’s false promises to offer £350m per week for the NHS. Farron also asked him “Where’s your bus?”, referring to the Leave campaign’s tour bus with the discredited message of supporting the NHS with millions of pounds. 

Leanne Wood criticised May’s absence and described her policies as “cruel”. She said that May’s leadership was “weak and unstable.”

But as the debate was not the talk of the town, the focus has turned back to Brexit, since negotiations are now officially beginning on 19 June. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Davis would meet on the 19 June at the Europa building in Brussels to start the formal talks. Davis has threatened that if the EU doesn’t agree to talk about the divorce terms in conjunction with a trade deal, this might turn out to be the “row of the summer.” Suddenly, after experiencing the drudgery of last night's debate, looking forward to "the row of the summer,"  doesn't sound such a bad idea.