A few years ago there was a famous edition of ‘Have I Got News for You’ in which Roy Hattersley pulled out of the programme at the eleventh hour and was replaced as Paul Merton’s fellow panellist by a tub of lard. Last night’s second General Election leaders’ debate (this time on BBC1) saw Theresa Jong Un absent once again, an absence that was highlighted even more than the Great Dictator’s absence from ITV’s equivalent show by the last-minute appearance of Jeremy Corbyn, fresh from a grilling on ‘Woman’s Hour’ that raised the hackles of the Mumsnet harpies. In the PM’s place wasn’t a tub of lard, but Home Secretary Amber Rudd, a woman who seems to be morphing into Theresa May when she had the same job, haircut included; that she was prepared to step in even though her father had passed away a couple of days beforehand is something else that doesn’t reflect well on her superior’s no-show.
The inclusion of Jezza seemed to spice things up a little; on ITV’s show, there was nobody from Labour or the Tories; this time round, the presence of Corbyn and Rudd made a notable difference, as did Angus Robertson, the SNP’s main-man in Westminster, in place of Nicola Sturgeon and her lucky earrings. The debate was considerably livelier than its predecessor, possibly because – as happens in a family of several children – everyone had to shout to make themselves heard; on occasion, devil’s advocate Mishal Husain struggled to control the cacophony as the leaders began to resemble a party of old ladies in a tea shop fighting for the right to foot the bill.
In 2010, broadcasters recognised it made sense to limit such a programme to the leaders of the three main parties in Britain; but the success of the SNP and the decimation of the Lib Dems in 2015, not to mention the significant role of UKIP in creating the climate for the EU Referendum, means that will probably never happen again. No debate of this nature can now be undertaken unless everyone is included. The fragmentation of traditional party politics at the last General Election has created a climate in which there are many voices vying for the electorate’s attention, and television feels the need to reflect this fact, hence the seven-way showcase we received yesterday evening.
The selected questions from the audience were pretty predictable; when the subject of events in Manchester last week was raised, that drew pretty predictable responses from those on stage as well. Regarding those events as an abomination should be a given, but most standing at the lecterns felt compelled to express that before answering the question, which conveniently limited the time available to airing their solutions, though only Paul Nuttall went against the narrative pedalled by the rest; Corbyn and Angus Robertson fell back on a rather lazy blame-game by accusing UKIP of labelling all Muslims as terrorists, which Nuttall didn’t actually do. This seemed to back-up the left’s persistent accusations of any criticism of Islam as ‘Islamophobic’, something that has hardly borne positive fruit at Salford University.
Jeremy Corbyn is accustomed to playing before large and largely favourable audiences and it appeared he had sizeable support in Cambridge last night; as Home Secretary, Theresa May once stood up to the Police Federation and told the country’s most inept public service to get their house in order, something I thought took considerable balls for a Tory Home Secretary to do. She proved then she could face a hostile audience; why can’t she do so as Prime Minister? Corbyn, as well as Tim Farron, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas, played upon the PM’s absence and it was hard at times not to feel sorry for Amber Rudd, saddled with having to defend her boss’s record rather than her own; however, she did make the valid point that she’d have preferred to have faced her shadow counterpart in the shape of the perennial car-crash that is Diane Abbott.
Paul Nuttall recycled many of the statistics he used during his Andrew Neil interview on Monday and locked horns with Leanne Wood again (without mistakenly calling her Natalie this time) in a manner that suggested they perhaps should settle their differences by having sex. Caroline Lucas did her usual hectoring primary school headmistress routine and Tim Farron tried his best by harking back to his working-class upbringing in Preston once more, though his closing statement – advising viewers to switch over to ‘Bake Off’ on BBC2 and not bother with the debate because Theresa May couldn’t be bothered with them – at least showed a degree of welcome humour.
One week from today, you can have your say; whether you vote tactically or for the party you had handed down to you like a hereditary peerage or you simply go for your constituency MP because you like them (regardless of which party they represent), your vote will count. Whether or not it results in the party you think is best suited to running the country actually achieving power is another matter, but let’s face it, it’s the sole say we have and we’ve no choice but to make the most of it. It’s the only shot we’ve got.
And lest we forget, something serious could always happen to influence our vote…
© The Editor