General election 2017: Theresa May branded 'weak' for avoiding BBC debate

Papers say TV debate dealt neither a knock-out blow nor a cringing disaster

Leaders' debate

Jeremy Corbyn's late decision to join last night's BBC election debate shifted the focus onto the absent Theresa May, who came under fire in the studio and beyond for sending Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, in her place.

"The first rule of leadership is to show up," said Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas, who was joined by Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Ukip's Paul Nuttall, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said May's boycott of the event showed she was "weak and wobbly".

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"With the Conservatives' poll lead narrowing, and May vulnerable on the issue of social care, Corbyn's team believe the idea that May has ducked a debate will resonate with voters," The Guardian reports.

But The Spectator's political editor, James Forsyth, says "May pretty much got away with her decision not to turn up" for a "shouty, bity affair in which no one really stood out".

Pushed by moderator Mishal Husain to provide costings for Conservative manifesto pledges, Rudd asked voters to "judge us on our record on funding public services", provoking jeers from the audience.

"Have you seen the levels of poverty that exist because of your government's conscious decisions on benefits?" asked Corbyn.

Corbyn, who was accused by Rudd of relying on a "magic money tree" to fund his party's policies, had toned down his rhetoric for the occasion, says the New Stateman.

"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," the magazine reports.

But neither Corbyn nor any of the other opposition leaders landed a knock-out blow.

"In the spin room, where the press were watching and senior politicians were trying to claim victory for their competitor, it didn't feel like a wake or a celebration for any party in particular," says BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg.

"None of the participants achieved a big breakthrough moment. But nor, crucially, did any of them have a cringing disaster."

It was all a bit of a waste of time, says The Independent. "The two who mattered in this debate were Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn," the paper reports. "She didn't turn up and he looked as if he wished he hadn't either."

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