Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and five other party leaders clashed this evening in a chaotic seven-way debate on their plans for government after next week’s General Election – but Conservative party leader Theresa May did not take part.
May was replaced by home secretary Amber Rudd, who argued voters should judge the Conservative party “on our record”.
Corbyn this morning challenged May to “come and have a chat” ahead of the debate in Cambridge after a last-minute decision to take part, calling her absence “weak”.
Corbyn was looking to capitalise on a recent surge in Labour's vote share in opinion polls. The fall in the Conservative party lead has sent shivers through sterling currency markets as traders start to contemplate the possibility of a hung Parliament, despite most polls suggesting the Tories will win an increased majority.
Both Rudd and Corbyn said the election presents a “real choice” for voters between two different visions of government, but the politicians struggled to put through clear messages in a disorderly atmosphere.
May was repeatedly criticised for her absence during the debate by the other leaders, who included Liberal Democrat Tim Farron and the Scottish National party leader in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson.
Rudd aimed to turn the focus away from May’s abstention towards Labour’s economic plans, repeatedly describing their manifesto as a “magic money wishlist”.
However, Corbyn, referring to petty criminals, said Labour would act to change a “spiv economy that hands tax relief to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest people”.
The leaders also clashed on Brexit, with Farron and Robertson pushing for continued Single Market membership, while the Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, argued the UK should not pay the so-called Brexit bill to the EU when it leaves.
Rudd said Brexit is “the most important challenge” facing the new government after the General Election on 8 June, saying May would be the “right choice” to lead the country in contrast to the "coalition of chaos" represented by the other parties.
A spokesperson for Corbyn said: "Theresa May’s refusal to take part showed her weakness."