There were a lot of complaints after last night’s leaders’ debate was criticised for having the “most left-wing audience in any election debate.” The BBC replied by saying that the polling company ComRes picked an audience that represented the country demographically and politically. But that didn’t stop disagreement, with the Daily Mail using the following as its headline for Thursday’s newspaper edition: “Fury at Bias on BBC TV Debate.” 

At the same time, Theresa May not turning up, has angered viewers and politicians, with comedian Armando Iannucci pointing out that “the only person Theresa May has debated on TV is her husband.”

What happened?

What would be remembered from last night is the absence of Theresa May. Corbyn agreed to appear at last night’s debate, after deciding last minute and then challenging Theresa May to join him. The invitation was a bit unfair since he himself wasn’t going to appear, then did appear and embarrassed May by inviting her unexpectedly. Where are your manner’s Corbyn? But May must have had other plans, including, as many suggested jokingly, “bingeing on House of Cards season five,” or thinking about Brexit, as she herself pointed out yesterday during her visit in Bath. 

What was said?

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and Amber Rudd, Conservatives

He focussed on fair migration and the public services. He questioned Amber Rudd on the Conservatives’ cuts: “I would just say this to Amber, if she thinks this is a country at ease with itself: have you been to a food bank? Have you seen people sleeping around our stations? Have you seen the levels of poverty that exist because of your government’s conscious decisions on benefits?” Rudd defended the government by saying that such issues are only solved by having a strong economy, something that cannot be done with Labour’s “magic money tree.” Rudd who was standing in for the PM, had just lost her father on Monday night, but she still made an appearance. 

Rudd criticised Corbyn’s leadership and said that his “proposals don’t add up. It’s as though he thinks it’s some sort of game, a game of Monopoly perhaps, where you ask the banker for the red money to buy the electrics, the green money to buy the railways, and the yellow money to buy the gas works.”

What perhaps infuriated Tory supporters was that the audience laughed when Rudd recommended that the Tories should be judged on their record. 

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru

She talked about Brexit and criticised Ukip’s Paul Nuttall for his pledge that the UK should “pay no divorce bill” to the EU. She said: “Would you refuse to pay your dues if you were going through a real divorce? … We all know about blokes like you.”

Nuttall was attacked by most parties’ leaders who criticised his “hate-filled rhetoric.”

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats

Farron also focussed on Brexit and the single market, highlighting the significance of staying within the single market because, if not, that would be disastrous for the NHS and social care. 

He accused the PM for avoiding to be present and said: “Amber Rudd is up next. She is not the prime minister. The prime minister is not here tonight. She can’t be bothered. So why should you? In fact, Bake Off is on BBC2 next. Why not make yourself a brew? You are not worth Theresa May’s time. Don’t give her yours.”

Caroline Lucas, Greens

Lucas attacked Rudd, genuinely concerned about her sleeping habits: “I genuinely wonder how you sleep at night … Arms sales to Saudi Arabia cannot be justified on the grounds of this being good for industry.” But she also criticised May’s absence, like others before her: “The first rule of leadership is show up. You don’t call a general election saying it’s the most important in her lifetime and then not even bother to show up.”

Angus Robertson, SNP

The Scottish politician talked against controlling immigration and said: “This debate shames and demeans us all. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t understand the positive contribution people have made to this land and demonising those people is totally unacceptable.”

Paul Nuttall, Ukip

Nuttall covered all controversial subjects. From immigration to extremism, Brexit and the elites. Always the elites, of course, because Ukip has the urge to spice up their discourse with a little bit of populism. He proclaimed: “Ukip will always protect those most at risk of wage compression from unskilled mass migration. Ukip will always stand up for those let down by the Westminster elite.” As if this group of people are so naïve that they don’t understand the dangerous association of wages to immigration, and the widespread and useless use of elites whenever is convenient.

Boris Johnson’s verdict

Talking today on Sky News, Boris agreed that the audience was the most left-wing he could ever remember, while he defended May’s absence from the debate by saying that it showed “prudence and wisdom.”

He said: “What that debate showed very clearly is the wisdom of the prime minister in not coming. It was a chaotic cacophony of different voices, and elucidated absolutely nothing, I thought, except for a couple of good points that Amber Rudd was able to get over to Jeremy Corbyn.

You had the most leftwing audience I’ve ever seen, you had Tim Farron and the Scottish Nationalists supporting Corbyn, and they would effectively be going into the negotiations in Brussels backing him up, but with a very different view of what they want the outcome of the Brexit talks to be.”

May will be speaking today on Brexit which she has described as a “great national mission.” She will talk about setting the UK free from the EU’s control and reaffirming the people’s decision to leave the EU.