Yesterday on the 31st of May the BBC held an election debate featuring either the leaders or leading figures of the two major political parties, and some smaller ones. The leaders of UKIP, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru attended the debate for their parties while for the Conservatives it was Amber Rudd (Home Secretary), for the Greens it was Caroline Lucas (who shares leadership) and for the Scottish National Party Angus Robertson (deputy leader) took the place of Nicola Sturgeon. Taking place at 19:30 the debate lasted an hour and a half, ending at 21:00 sharp.
Until the morning of the debate it was unsure whether Jeremy or Theresa would actually turn up as the position of both leaders had been uncertain. This was emphasized by the face that both the Conservatives and the Labour Party failed to send anyone to attend the ITV leaders debate a week before. Surprisingly after much confusion Jeremy revealed on the morning that he would indeed take part in the election debate, throwing down the gauntlet to Theresa to attend.
This was quite the clever tactic on Jeremys’ behalf, waiting until the final moments to announce his attendance meant that it put Theresa on the spot, putting the pressure on her to attend and giving the impression of cowardice if she failed to do so. For if it was known that Jeremy was to attend in advance, the pressure on Theresa would have been placed over a number of weeks, petering out over time. Whereas what happened was a large amount of pressure was piled on the embattled Prime Minister within a short amount of time to put forward the case for a Conservative government and defend her precious records in government.
Throughout the hour and a half the debate took place, there were a few questions asked by the audience which covered a wide range of topics. From the decline in living standards, President Trumps announcement to leave the Paris Climate agreement, Brexit, immigration and the parties costings of their manifesto. Quite a variety of questions from which the panelists responded and debated aptly. With each came to the forefront the different strengths and weaknesses of each party, and most preeminently their leaders. This is how I thought each of the leaders and representatives did during the debate.
The Conservatives took a thrashing from all sides tonight, attacked for Mays’ lack of resolve to attend the debate herself, instead sending Amber in her place. She was there to defend their record in government and come under fire due to austerity and a disastrous foreign policy which has created space for one of the most hostile groups to grow and seize power. This atmosphere created a tough environment for Amber, but she managed to shrug off the hostility to focus on her main opponent, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Acting as the vanguard of the Conservative machine of spin and soundbites, she relentlessly scorned Jeremy for “Labours magic money tree” and claimed his policies were nothing more than fantasies. After these attacks she would be put onto the defensive by the rest of the leaders as they savaged the governments record, she did what she could to stand her ground, but she took some flak along the way which she was unable to successfully shake off. This comes from the fact that some of her arguments were quite underwhelming, so much so that the audience seemed to do nothing but laugh, especially when Amber asked the British people to trust their record in government in response to the question of the lack of costings in their manifesto.
For Jeremy Corbyn the main crux of his argument throughout the debate was to reinforce the message of his electoral campaign, which says that there is an alternative, it doesn’t have to be like this and that things can get better. To emphasize this point he rigorously attacked the austerity agenda which the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats as he pointed out, supported in government, the effects of those policies and the damage they’ve caused. Subsequently in between these relentless assaults he would also launch attacks on Theresa for refusing to turn up to the debate, saying at one point that the first point of good leadership was to “turn up”. In between these assaults upon the Conservatives he put forward a vision of a fairer Britain, through progressive taxation policies, greater investment in public services and in the welfare state. Providing a stable platform from which to create the basis of a Labour government under his leadership.
Similar to the rest of the progressive parties Leanne devoted quite a lot of her time to attacking austerity. Throughout the debate she consistently linked her arguments back to Wales, which while to the rest of us seemed irrelevant, it was important to hammer home in the Welsh constituencies. She would do this through attacking austerity, the Conservative economy policy and the immigration rhetoric then link it back to Wales where in the Welsh Assembly the party would introduce measures to attack social injustices and lessen the affects of austerity, such as the banning of zero hours contracts, which in turn the Labour Party would block them time and time again. Thus trying to prove to the Welsh people that the Labour Party was not their friend, but their enemy acting against their interests and effectively giving the Conservatives a free pass in enforcing the agenda the leadership was so against.
Unlike her predecessor Natalie Bennett, Caroline Lucas was an inspired intellectual whose carefully articulated vocabulary and debating style was a welcome surprise. Like many who fight from the progressive corner, she focused greatly on the effects of austerity and how the Greens would reverse the cuts, focusing on a better society rather than benefiting the privileged few. One of the key focuses for Lucas was scrapping of nuclear weapons, reinvesting the money we would spend on Trident into programmes such as promoting green energy, the NHS and other social programmes. One government policy which she wholeheartedly disagreed with was the continuation of selling weapons to countries such as Saudi Arabia, who is fueling wars and terrorism across the middle east, such as the Yemeni Civil War in which the Saudis have interfered.
Tim Farrons precarious centre ground positioning and the shameful leadership of his predecessor has left people wondering what exactly the Liberal Democrats stand for. Unable to provide what exactly a Liberal Democrat platform would be he certainly pulled above his weight this debate. Focusing on the issues which be believed were true to his heart and what people deeply cared about this election he attacked the Conservatives and Labour without end, specifying some of the key policies which he has been advocating throughout the election campaign. Issues such as social care, free school meals for kids, the NHS and the refugee crisis. One of his most important comments, as expected, were to come on the Brexit negotiations, focusing exclusively on Jeremy and the Labour Party for triggering article 50 as well as refusing to vote on an amendment which guaranteed EU workers rights in Britain.
The hardest person on the stage to get a feel for was the SNPs Angus Robertson. Unlike the others taking part in the debate here was a man who was either incredibly sincere, understanding and straightforward or none other than a male Theresa May who’s robotic and scripted responses were auto tuned to perfection. The only difference being that he was on the opposing side of the arguments to May. In line with other progressives he attacked the cruel and callous Conservative cuts to the public sector under austerity, denounced the state of the Brexit negotiation deals and promoting the positive of immigration. Again similar to Leanne he would bring the argument back to Scotland, hammering home the ideals of the SNP, showing the Scottish people why they should continue to vote for the party.
Unfortunately for Nuttall he was forced to fill a considerable gap left by his predecessor Nigel Farage (technically Diane James). Most likely he will never be able to fill the void of teflon Nigel, whose charisma and determinism helped build up UKIP to a potentially threatening anti-Establishment force as the debate, as well as the ITV debate, proved. Focusing on immigration and a right wing taxation policy it was incredibly difficult for Paul to garner any sympathies, and when challenged by Jeremy on corporation tax his argument simply faltered. The only positive reception that Paul received on any UKIP policy was on the subject of Jihadis returning from combat in Syria/Iraq. Other than this is was a poor showing, potentially a symbolic milestone of things to come for the party. Attacking the size of the foreign aid budget he tried his best to put a positive spin on using the money to fund the NHS and other public services, but was hounded down by the progressive parties for attacking the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world.
Some leaders fared quite well in this debate and either defied expectations or stood their ground in the face of stern hostility. Such as Amber Rudd who faced an incredibly hostile environment but managed to hold her precarious position. Even Tim Farron, having to return from oblivion thanks to his predecessor, managed to give a good debate performance, showing some of the causes the Liberal Democrats care about such as social care, the NHS and unsurprisingly his stance on the Brexit negotiations. Others meanwhile simply faltered and proved to be worse than expected. Specifically Nuttall, who while he had a rough time, failed to really get the message across of what UKIP really stands for, other than to mention the problems created by immigration and making some good points on issues around security. It’s not always easy to garner who won the debate, but with ease you can always determine who lost.