Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a surprising announcement to join the BBC leader’s debate this week, whilst Theresa May stood by her decision to not take part and instead send Home Secretary Amber Rudd in her place. All of May’s political rivals lined up to criticise her for not participating in the seven-way debate. Amber Rudd defended May’s decision, saying “part of being a good leader is having a good, strong team”. Corbyn did not directly attack Mrs May’s absence, but clashed with Rudd over cuts. The prime minister had ruled out appearing on televised debates soon after calling the election. She said on Wednesday that she preferred “taking questions and meeting people” on the campaign trail rather than “squabbling” with other politicians.
Meanwhile, the political make-up of the audience itself attracted criticism with some accusing it displayed a clear “left-wing bias”. The polling company, ComRes, chosen to select the audience for the debate has defended its selection criteria. Andrew Hawkins, founder of ComRes, said the recruitment of people to watch the seven-way debate had been “more complex” than he had ever witnessed. He said five of the parties were left of centre – which meant “cheering is going to be skewed in one direction”. But Boris Johnson said the debate was an “echo chamber for left-wing views”.
On Thursday, Theresa May called on voters from both sides of the EU debate to back her in next week’s general election to “fulfil the promise of Brexit”. In a bid to focus on Brexit after being criticised for avoiding the TV debate, she said it could bring “enormous” opportunities. She said Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn was “not up to the job” of managing it. But Corbyn accused the Tories of creating a “toxic climate” in EU talks, using “hectoring and threats”. He said his Brexit plan would be based on “mutual interests of both Britain and the EU”. The Lib Dems said the PM’s “hard Brexit” approach would harm the economy.
The SNP manifesto published this week dropped Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for another independence referendum in autumn 2018 or spring 2019 in favour of one ‘at the end of the Brexit process, when the final terms of the deal are known’. It adds that it would be ‘democratically unsustainable’ for the Tories to block a referendum if the SNP wins a majority of seats in Scotland. The manifesto also pledged £118 billion more government spending over the next parliament as part of a plan to ‘get the deficit back under control, balance the budget and see debt falling’ Sturgeon announced.
The Times reported this week on the expected Cabinet reshuffle post-election. The report said that Ben Gummer is being lined up as the new Brexit secretary, with David Davis promoted to foreign secretary. Theresa May’s key challenge will be what she will do with Boris Johnson, the current foreign secretary. There were also reports that home secretary Amber Rudd could be promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer, with Philip Hammond being moved from the role.