Jeremy Corbyn's a better campaigner than Theresa May, and five other things we learnt

The two leaders faced a tough set of questions from the BBC audience. 

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Theresa May is damaged, but we don't know how badly yet

Theresa May’s difficulties started when she loudly called for a return to fox hunting, but this Q&A felt more like a badger baiting, with the Prime Minister cast in the role of the luckless badger.

The audience savaged her over her fondness for U-Turns, her mendacity over calling the election and much else besides.

For anyone who has travelled the country and heard the affection with which she was held only a month ago, the visible fall in the Prime Minister’s stock is staggering to behold.

But her performance is improving

This was a stronger performance from Theresa May than we've seen so far this campaign, but still one that validated her decision to avoid debating Jeremy Corbyn. Her habit of glaring at difficult questioners had all but vanished, which considering how angry the audience was a mercy.

As I wrote after the last of these not-quite-debates, it is clear that this campaign has damaged May, and now we wait to see how bad the damage will be on 8 June; has she scuffed her paintwork or written off the Conservative car entirely?

Her improved performance is unlikely to repair the damage but it may prevent further wounds. 

Theresa May seems to think that having a disability and having mental health issues are one and the same

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.  Theresa May had an awkward encounter with a woman with learning disabilities early on in her gaffe-ridden campaign in which she replied to her concerns about having learning difficulties by talking about what her government would do for mental health.

Today, after one member of the audience described a harrowing experience undergoing the Work Capability Assessment, the Prime Minister again talked solely about mental health, though she was also partially sighted. Then when a third audience member brought up that first awkward encounter she replied by focusing exclusively on mental health.

It seems increasingly certain that the Prime Minister doesn’t understand the difference between having a learning disability and being mentally ill. And, troublingly, few her in her circle seem to care.

This Conservative campaign is a disaster from soup to nuts

“We don’t prepare for anybody,” Arsene Wenger once said when asked how he intended to contain Gareth Bale. Inevitably, Arsenal went on to lose 2-1, with Bale scoring one goal and making the other.

This misfiring Conservative campaign seems to have a similar approach. There is no way that the 2015 Tory campaign would have sent David Cameron into the debating chamber with such a weak answer on the public sector pay freeze as the one Theresa May wheeled out today.

The mystery is that the top team in CCHQ is mostly unchanged on 2015, yet the excellence is not there and the ruthlessness is not there. There is one big change though: the substitution of Cameron for May. Like Emmanuel Eboue, she may need to be substituted herself soon, no matter how well the Tories perform.

Jeremy Corbyn is an old pro at this

It’s easy to forget and many did before the first one of these non-quite-debates, but Jeremy Corbyn has been doing this for a long time.

He showed the same assured turn he put in on Monday, although this time he was less exciting to watch. He exuded genial dullness, which given that the Conservatives are majoring on the idea he is a dangerous politician was a good look, albeit one that was not exactly a joy to watch.

Trident still has the power to wound – Labour, at least

Jeremy Corbyn did look largely unruffled, with one exception – the prolonged and bruising sessions over Trident, which largely seemed to exercise the men in the audience.

The difficulty, however you feel about the utility or the morality of the deterrent, is that for a great number of people Britain’s nuclear deterrent is a sign that the country is still a virile Top Nation, able to strut its stuff on the world stage and if necessary turn a few cities into glass.

We know from the Brexit vote that this stuff can be powerful – and it may be the element that stymies Labour on 8 June. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.