Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Choose Bake Off not Theresa May – 7 things we learnt from the BBC leadership debate

It IS possible to feel sorry for Amber Rudd. 

By Julia Rampen

Until Wednesday morning, the BBC leadership debate was going to be a select affair, where the smaller parties talked about impractical policies and non-Welsh voters could bask in the dulcet tones of Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. But then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn decided to crash the debate and turn it into a Very Big Deal. Except if you’re Theresa May, in which case it’s not a big deal and you send your bitch home secretary instead. 

Rudd declared that “in the quiet of the polling booth” voters would decide between May and a chaotic coalition led by Corbyn. But was that really what we learnt? Here are 7 other conclusions instead:

1. It is possible to feel sorry for Amber Rudd

Being the face of a right-wing government isn’t fun at the best of times, but standing in for the face of a right-wing government is even worse. The onetime aristocracy co-ordinator reeled out phrases about a “magic money tree” and “fantasy economics” while having to defend cuts to pensioners and remember pre-rehearsed lines about “coalitions of chaos”. She was also representing her boss just days after her elderly father passed away.

Meanwhile, #wherestheresamay was trending on Twitter. 

2. Jeremy Corbyn is getting square

Wearing a suit and tie, referring to his costed manifesto, and lecturing Rudd about cuts to police, Corbyn was more high school geography teacher than jumper-clad radical. Perhaps the clue was in his musings on leadership, where he declared: 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

“Leadership is about understanding the people you represent, is about being prepared to learn, is about not being so high and mighty you can’t take advice.”

Like that old Etonian David Cameron’s advice to “put on a proper suit”. Judging by the recent Labour poll surge, it worked. 

3. Caroline Lucas is the new lefty pin up

With Corbyn saying things like “free movement will end”, it was up to the Green co-leader (she job shares with Jon Bartley) to channel the spirit of Britain’s radicals. 

“Why is Britain the second biggest arms dealer in the world?” Lucas wondered during the foreign policy debate. As for immigration controls: “I think free movement has been the most wonderful gift – the ability to travel and move and live and love in 27 different member states.”

4. Leanne Wood has sound divorce advice

The lilting-accented Plaid Cymru leader was back by popular demand, and while she did her bit for Wales, her star turn was a takedown of Ukip’s Paul Nuttall. “In the real world, you have to pay your divorce dues,” she told him when the subject of the EU debt settlement came up.

Fun Leanne Wood fact: she used to be a probation officer.

5. Paul Nuttall doesn’t understand irony

The (eventual) successor to Nigel Farage as Ukip leader condemned “the politics of jealousy or spite”, warned that “businesses will leave the country” if corporation tax isn’t cut (but not, apparently, if Britain leaves the single market), and declared that “I’ve never changed my stance on anything.”*

Nuttall also enraged Ukip’s three and a half Scottish supporters when he appeared to forget them, pledging: “We’d look at the Barnett formula which gives the Scots £1,700 more than us the English.”

*except his LinkedIn CV, his friends at Hillsborough, his ability to kick a ball

6. Angus Robertson picks his moments

The Scottish National Party leader at Westminster’s took a “less is more” approach, with rather less about Scottish independence and more about the evils of Brexit.

“This debate shames and demeans us all,” he said of the immigration discussion. “I don’t think there’s anyone watching this debate from Cornwall to Caithness who doesn’t understand the positive contributon people have made who came from other parts of the world.” He got claps from the English audience, even if he wasn’t Nicola Sturgeon.

7. Tim Farron is a hoot (just don’t mention gay sex)

The Lib Dem leader has spent more time discussing whether gay sex is a sin this campaign than withdrawing from the single market. But this was a chance to show off his less pious side.

“Where do you think Theresa May is? Take a look out your window. Maybe she’s sizing up your house,” Farron said, in his best scare-the-elderly voice.

And when it came to the end of the debate, it was Farron who delived the zinger. 

“Amber Rudd is up next. She is not the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister isn’t here. She can’t be bothered. So why should you? In fact Bake Off is on BBC2 next. Why not make a brew. You’re not worth Theresa May’s time. Don’t give her yours.”

It really is possible to feel sorry for Amber Rudd.