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Theresa May Left Amber Rudd To Tackle The Leaders' Debate And It Didn't Go Too Well For Anyone

The prime minister gave the primetime election debate a miss, Jeremy Corbyn turned up, everyone shouted at each other.

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The BBC invited all the leaders of the major political parties to a live TV debate on Wednesday night – which then became a game of "Where's Theresa May?"


The prime minister made it very clear from the start of the general election campaign that she didn't intend to take part in any head-to-head TV debates. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had made it very clear he wouldn't take part in any TV debates without the prime minister. So when the BBC announced they would hold a primetime debate and allow the parties to nominate anyone to represent them, everyone expected it would be a bit of a non-event.

Then – at the last minute on Wednesday afternoon – Corbyn announced he would cancel his planned events and turn up at the debate in Cambridge to debate on behalf of Labour.

Which led to a lot of comments about Conservative home secretary Amber Rudd still being the stand-in for May.

When ever Amber Rudd speaks at the #BBCDebate, can everyone reply to her with "can I please speak to your manager?"

UKIP prepared for the debate in a different way.

@patrick_kidd .@paulnuttallukip has a crib sheet tonight..

The party's press officer tweeted a biro-based crib sheet for Paul Nuttall, in a bid to avoid a repeat of his previous decision to repeatedly shout "Natalie" at Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood.


Even a social media intern promoting a Netflix show managed to have fun with the fact that Theresa May didn't turn up.

@theresa_may They respect you more when you show strength. Or show up.

After the show it was revealed by The Sun that Amber Rudd had decided to turn up to the debate and represent Theresa May, despite the home secretary's elderly father dying on Monday.

Rudd kicked things off with repeated references to Jeremy Corbyn's "magic money tree", which was apparently going to pay for everything.

“We have to stop thinking there’s a magic money tree” - Amber Rudd v Jeremy Corbyn #BBCDebate

The home secretary had been sent out with a clear mission: To portray Corbyn as someone who would spend the nation's money while being in favour of the current level of immigration.

Conservative ministers on Twitter quickly picked up and attempted to join in on the "magic money tree" memes.

Jeremy Corbyn's economic policy: #BBCdebate

They had a somewhat mixed reaction from the Twitter audience.


People were also quite confused when Rudd started talking about Jeremy Corbyn spending different colours of monopoly money nationalising different things.

"The red money to buy the electrics and the yellow money to buy the railways." Amber Rudd has literally never playe…

You've Been Playing Monopoly Wrong Your Whole Life, Amber Rudd Reveals. #BBCDebate

The Greens' Caroline Lucas also had a go at Theresa May at various points throughout the evening.

"The first rule of leadership is to show up" - Green co-leader Caroline Lucas #BBCDebate…


"I think the first rule of leadership is to show up," she complained, pointing out that the Greens share the job with two co-leaders.

"You don't call a general election and say it's the most important election in a lifetime and then not even be bothered to debate the issues at stake."

The SNP's Angus Robertson had a good night, despite the fact that he was also there in place of his leader and it was unlikely many people in the room could vote for his party.

On the few times that anyone's managed to cut through this ballyhoo, it's usually been Angus Robertson with a belter.

He too managed a dig at May.

"Not so much Iron Lady as the u-turn queen" - decent line from Angus Robertson. Debate finishes with them all lambasting May for her absence

Which could have been better.

Why didn't Angus Robertson call Theresa May the "I Run Lady" there? I literally just screamed that at the TV. Open goal, mate. Open goal.


The audience were lively. Amber Rudd asked them to judge the Conservative government on their record, which went down well.

The crowd, who asked the questions, were balanced by an independent polling company but still ended up laughing at the home secretary's comments. By this point all the other leaders were so busy piling in on Rudd they'd forgotten they were still supposed to be angry at Theresa May's no-show.

There was debate about Brexit, with Leanne Wood telling off Paul Nuttall for wanting to walk away from the European Union without paying anything.

“We all know blokes like you…You want a free divorce, it doesn’t happen that way” - Leanne Wood challenges Paul Nut…

Nuttall also came under fire from many of the rival leaders for making comments about radical Islam and its role in terror attacks.

Paul Nuttal rouses from his slumber, ears pricked. "Did someone say.... ISLAMIST EXTREMISM????" #BBCDebate


One of the most direct attacks was by Jeremy Corbyn on the Conservatives' record in government.

"Have you ever been to a food bank?" - Jeremy Corbyn challenges Amber Rudd on Conservative record in #BBCDebate…

It went down well, but Corbyn increasingly found it difficult to get a word in edgeways after that.

As is often the case when seven ego-filled politicians get in the same room and try to talk over each other, the debate was at times completely unlistenable.

UK politics summed up in 10 seconds #BBCDebate

What you're missing in #BBCDebate - Shouting - Interruption - And here's another thing - NHS - Let him speak - Definite plan - Not true


Amber Rudd accused Corbyn of being soft on terror legislation.

Amber Rudd: Corbyn boasted in 2011 of voting against every piece of anti-terror legislation since he was first elected in 1983. #BBCDebate

Corbyn responded by pointing out that even May had opposed certain pieces of terror legislation while in opposition.

Tim Farron, whose Liberal Democrats rely heavily on the votes of the centre-left middle classes, decided to mildly diss the centre-left middle classes.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats talking down the influence of "hair-shirted muesli-eating Guardian readers" is bold.

He also managed a vaguely passable attempt at a joke on a couple of occasions.

Farron asks where May is: "Take a look out of your window, she might be outside your house - sizing it up to pay for your social care"


Amazingly brave attempt at stand up by Tim Farron. If you’re going down, go down big.

Leanne Wood made a final plea for votes.

when ur pals don't love react your profile pic #bbcdebate

But all the same everyone made it through alive.

Twitter before a debate: "There must be a debate, leaders must face public scrutiny!" Twitter during a debate: "This is totally shit."

In summary.

If this clusterfuck changes a single vote I'll be amazed


Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at

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