This post features updates incorporated into the post during the day as news develops
Yesterday the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (above) surprised everyone by deciding to take part in last night’s BBC Leaders’ Debate. Theresa May (above) didn’t take part as she has said since the election campaign began in April that she wouldn’t share a stage with the Labour leader, or any other party leader. Initially Jeremy Corbyn said he was willing to appear in debates but not if Theresa May didn’t. His change of mind yesterday was a masterstroke as it has thrown Theresa May and her Conservative party’s campaign into disarray. Far from proving the disastrous campaigner many feared, Mr Corbyn has had a steady, relaxed and competent – on the whole – campaign. Many of those who before April were wary of Mr Corbyn, his policies and his image – much of which was created by Tory and media propaganda against him – are looking at Corbyn and thinking he’s not quite the monster the Tories and the tabloids would have us believe. Many are also drawn to his anti-austerity and socialist-driven polices after seven years of Tory austerity, public spending cuts and attacks on the poor, sick, disabled and working people in this country.
Theresa May’s personal attacks on the Labour leader have backfired and have done nothing to stop his steady and now increasingly dramatic climb in the polls. The Prime Minister has now decided to end personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, with just a week to go until the polls on 8 June, and re-focus her campaign back on Brexit – despite that her campaign tactic of focusing on Brexit and emphasising that she would be the only “strong and stable” leader to ensure that Brexit will succeed has backfired as people see her dithering and partial u-turn on social care funding – demonstrating that she is neither a strong or stable leader. The 48% of the electorate who didn’t vote for Brexit are perhaps also reacting to her reactionary statements and aggressive posture with the rest of the European Union. She threatens that no deal is better than a bad deal and says that she is willing to leave the EU without any deal on trade or the single market. Many who voted for Brexit didn’t foresee that when they cast their vote to leave the EU last year. Many were caught up in the lies that immigration would be drastically reduced if we left and that the National Health Service ( NHS) would receive all the money that we currently pay the EU as a member state. People are realising, perhaps too late, that leaving the EU without a trade deal at least would be economically disastrous to the UK economy.
Others in the country are tired of the Conservative’s anti-immigration stance, of their aping of UKIP populist ideas. The Conservatives have promised in the last three elections that immigration would be reduced to the tens of thousands per year – it hasn’t and continues to increase. The Tories refusal to guarantee the post-Brexit rights of European citizens already living in the country to remain here further alienates many who fear the threat to the economy that would result if these people are forced to leave and those Britons living abroad were forced to return to the UK. Then there is the hundreds of thousands of non-Europeans who live and work in the UK, often working in vital public services such as the NHS. Again, people realise the importance these people have to the British economy.
People look at Ms May’s refusal not to take part in live debates and ridicule her. People today are cracking the same jokes up and down the country – “The lady is for turning … just not for turning up,” and “May should be sanctioned by the DWP for not turning up to her job interview.” The former joke is a reference to Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase the “lady is not for turning,” which she said in 1980 in defiance of opposition of her economic policies. The phrase applied to Ms May was coined by the shadow education secretary Angela Raynor. The second joke is a reference to the requirement by the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) for certain benefit claimants to attend interviews recommended by their job centre advisor or face punitive sanction of their benefits. A song by Captain Ska called “Liar Liar GE2017” has made the top ten. It is a merciless attack on Theresa May and her policies. The BBC refuse to play the song in order to maintain their impartiality during the election campaign, but you can watch it on YouTube.
All Theresa May’s blundering, anti-Corbyn attacks, aggressive stance on Brexit and her rhetoric on the need for more austerity have been disastrous. The latest YouGov opinion poll puts the Labour party just three points behind the Conservatives with a week to go. That is within the margin of error anticipated with polls. The Times-commissioned poll puts the Tories on 42% and Labour on 39%, with the Liberal Democrats slipping back to just 7% despite their so-called “fightback.”
When Ms May called a snap election in April – after repeatedly saying she wouldn’t – the Tories were 24 percentage points ahead in the polls and many were predicting the biggest landslide in decades for the Conservatives. Ms May’s appeal as a prime minister has also dropped in the poll. When asked who would make a better prime minister, 30% said Jeremy Corbyn – his highest figure ever – while Theresa May dropped two percentage points to 43%.
In London, her situation is even more dire. In the YouGov poll, 50% of Londoners who were asked said they would vote Labour, with the Tories on 41%. On the personal standing of the leaders, Mr Corbyn was favoured by 37% with 34% favouring Ms May, reversing the situation just last month when it was 38% to 32% in favour of Theresa May. In the run-up to her triggering Article 50, the action that begins the process of our withdrawal period from the EU, in March in London the Labour party were just 3 percentage points ahead (37% to 34%).
Many are now predicting a hung parliament with the Tories with most seats but no overall majority. Reports are coming out of the Labour party today that the Labour party will attempt to form a minority government if there is a hung parliament. Her failure to turn up for the debate last night is only fuelling the opposition party’s attacks on her leadership. She said that she was “taking questions and meeting people” instead, rather than “squabbling” with other politicians. Jeremy Corbyn chose not to directly attack Ms May’s absent during the debate, other party leaders did. Mr Corbyn said, at one point: “where is Theresa May, what happened to her?” Instead he focused on talking of his own leadership qualities. Other party leaders weren’t so quiet on the subject of Theresa May’s absence:
Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green party – who was at the debate – said: “Well, I think the first rule of leadership is to show up. You don’t call a general election and say it’s the most important election in her lifetime, and then not even be bothered to debate the issues at stake.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron – again, at the debate – mocked the Prime Minsiter for her no-show. When making his final statement at the end of the debate, he turned to Amber Rudd – the Home Secretary, who was standing in for Theresa May despite losing her father two days ago – and said: “Now, 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 BBC Two next, why not make yourself a brew? You are not worth Theresa May’s time. Don’t give her yours.” He had also made capital of her absence at the beginning of the debate: “Where do you think Theresa May is tonight? Take a look out of your window. She might be out there, sizing up your house to pay for your social care. And why do you think she called this election? She wants five years as prime minister and she thinks you’ll give it to her, no questions asked. Literally.”
Amber Rudd tried to respond to the criticism of Ms May’s leadership: “Part of being a good leader is having a good strong team around you. […] Let’s face it, Jeremy only decided to come, I think, late this morning. I was rather hoping Diane Abbott might be here.” This was referring to the shadow Home Secretary who has faced criticism of late on comments she has made. Ms Abbott replied wonderfully later on her Twitter feed: “@AmberRuddHR Heard you were asking for me? This was a leaders debate. My leader respects the British public enough to show up #BBCDebate.”
Meanwhile the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson seemed to dismiss the leaders’ debate (above), arguing that the audience at the BBC debate was biased against the Conservatives: “the most leftwing audience I’ve ever seen,” he said. The Conservatives frequently claim the BBC has a left wing bias, while the Labour party and many of its supports claim it has a right wing bias. You know the BBC is being fair and un-biased and got their intended impartiality just about right when both sides are criticising it. The audience was selected by the polling company ComRes and not by the BBC. They claim it had a natural left wing lean as there were five leftist parties on the stage against just two right leaning parties. But they said that declared Conservative and Labour voters were in the majority with other parties proportionally represented. Andrew Hawkins, the founder of ComRes, said:
“If you have a panel of people – one from the governing party [Conservatives], one from what’s regarded as a rightwing party [Ukip] and five from broadly leftwing parties – and you give those speakers equal airtime, it means you’re giving five slots of airtime to the leftwing parties for every two slots to the not-so-leftwing parties.
“Therefore it’s inevitable that the cheering is going to be skewed in one direction. What I can say is that the recruitment for this was more complex and more rigorously executed than any I’ve ever witnessed.”
“We screened out people who have campaigned politically at any time in the last three years,” he said. “But equally, you need to get people who are politically engaged so the audience don’t sit there and say nothing and do nothing, so you do get some reaction.
“[the audience was] a reflection of the fact that the Conservatives were on the back foot because Theresa May didn’t turn up – and therefore it’s a bit of an easy target”.
Cartoons by Steve Bell (The Guardian) and Dave Brown (The Independent)
Tomorrow night the BBC will broadcast a live election Question Time Leaders Special featuring both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, but not on the same platform at the same time. They will be questioned by a studio audience. This will be the last chance of the two leaders to give their views to a national TV audience before next Thursday’s election. The polls are now suggesting a much closer election than anyone could have predicted a month ago, but as we know the polls can be spectacularly wrong. In 2015 the polls failed to predict the Conservative majority – as small as the majority was for David Cameron, and in 2016 they failed to predict the vote for Brexit, which just about everyone was saying would be rejected by the electorate. The polls today are encouraging and give tremendous hope that Labour can, at least, prevent the Tories achieving a majority or drastically limit a majority, but the Conservatives are still favourite to win the most seats and still favourite to form the next government. As always, the only poll that counts will be the one at begins at 7am on Thursday 8 June 2017.
View some memes on Theresa May’s refusal to debate other party leaders on my Flickr channel.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Election poll latest: Theresa May’s lead slashed to record low of three points as Labour close in on Tories – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Caroline Mortimer
- General election poll: Jeremy Corbyn surges ahead of Theresa May in London – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Joe Watts, Political Editor
- ‘May can’t be bothered, so why should you?’ Farron mocks PM – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Martin Belam
- May too busy with Brexit for TV debate – Election Daily podcast – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – Presented by Owen Jones and Rafael Behr with Jessica Elgot; produced by Phil Maynard and Gabriela Jones
- Boris Johnson says BBC debate audience was ‘most leftwing ever seen’ – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Peter Walker and Rowena Mason
- BBC debate: Rivals attack Theresa May over absence – bbc.co.uk/news – 1 June 2017
- The Andrew Neill interviews – bbc.co.uk/programmes
- Labour will attempt to form minority government if election ends in hung parliament – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Ashley Cowburn
- How likely is the General Election 2017 to result in a hung parliament? – telegraph.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Telegraph reporters
- Corbyn vows no deals, no pacts if there is a hung parliament – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Rajeev Syal
- Labour and the Tories start to spell out their differences on Brexit – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Dan Roberts, Brexit policy editor
- Tim Farron: I’d campaign to stay in the EU in a second referendum – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Jessica Elgot, Political reporter
- If the polls are right, it’s all over for Theresa May – and that’s bad for Brexit – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Mary Djevsky
- General election: Leaving EU with no deal would be economic disaster, says Corbyn – as it happened – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Andrew Sparrow
- Latest election poll: Theresa May nine seats short of winning majority, claims YouGov – indpendent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by David Milliken | Video
- Election 2017: Jeremy Corbyn goes from no-hoper to crowd-puller on the campaign trail – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by William James | Video
- For Britain’s populist right, Brexit success comes with a poisoned pill – washingtonpost.com – 31 May 2017 – by Griff Witte
- Theresa May’s Lead in British Polls Narrows After Missteps – nytimes.com – 31 May 2017 – by Dan Bilefsky