Wednesday’s debate was the largest of this election, with all seven major parties involved. The usual suspects were there – Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron; Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas; Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood; UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, deputy SNP leader Angus Robertson; and Jeremy Corbyn for Labour, who announced his attendance on the day. Home Secretary Amber Rudd appeared for the Conservatives in lieu of May, who claimed that she is preoccupied ‘thinking about Brexit negotiations.’ Refusing to participate in debates for an election that she herself called exemplifies May’s belief that the public blindly trust her ‘strong and stable’ rhetoric – and that they will hand her a mandate for austerity, growing inequality, and a hard Brexit.
The questions covered all the election’s hot topics. Regarding increasing living standards, Rudd united most leaders against her by arguing that the Conservatives support those in need. Corbyn and Lucas both cited the cutting of PIP payments, with Lucas mentioning that one million food parcels were needed last year. Rudd took this as an opportunity to scour her Tory rolodex and release the soundbite that Corbyn believes in a ‘magic money tree’ that will fix the economy. Rudd argued there’s 80,000 fewer workless households – but Lucas and Wood replied that employment doesn’t always mean decent living standards, citing zero-hour contracts. Nuttall claimed Britain has a labour over-surplus, agreeing with Rudd that low taxation is important, especially for businesses. From this first question, the polarisation of the other parties against the Conservatives and UKIP was clear, with Wood even jokingly referring to a UKIP/Tory coalition due to the alignment of policies.
In terms of security, the leaders were asked their plans to make Britain safer. This led to cross-party agreement that police numbers must be raised. Rudd justified cuts by saying it was ‘living within our means’. Corbyn and Robertson condemned Nuttall’s language directly associating extremism with Muslims, with Nuttall ignoring one of Farron’s rare interjections that the Manchester attacker was reported five times by the Muslim community. Lucas also challenged Rudd over Britain’s arms dealing, which Rudd justified as being ‘good for industry’. Oh dear.
Another question tackled the Boris-shaped elephant in the room, asking how the parties would ensure Britain has workers and skills it needs after Brexit. Nuttall unsurprisingly advocated for an Australian-style immigration system. Rudd vaguely argued for controlled immigration, whilst the others found reduced immigration abhorrent- with Farron accusing the Conservatives immigration policies of placating UKIP, drawing yet another comparison between the two parties on the right of the aisle. Corbyn stated every EU national must have permanent residence, and Labour would introduce fair migration policy. It is evident that Labour is trying to appeal to the many (and not the few) here, but was criticised by Robertson for not opposing the Tories more.
Overall, the debate may have descended into a cacophony of soundbites at times, but one issue was prevalent – if you’re going to call an election, Theresa, at least have the decency to show up for once, and give Rudd a night off.