Our 5 takes from the BBC leaders’ #GE2017 debate

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace brings you five key things we spotted from last night’s BBC leaders’ debate

SEVEN party leaders, with the exception of UK Tory leader Theresa May, went head to head in a BBC leaders’ debate last night (Wednesday 31 May) on issues such as security, austerity and Brexit.

May has received constant mockery from political opponents for not attending any head to head debates instead opting for stage-managed meetings at factories, party gatherings or single interviews with broadcasters.

Amber Rudd, the UK Home Secretary, stood in for May and came under sustained attack throughout the debate for her party’ s record on the deficit, national security and May’ s leadership. Other participants were SNP Westminister leader Angus Robertson , Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat UK leader Tim Farron and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall.

We lay out our five biggest takes from an evening of political debate.

1). Robertson and Lucas on radicalisation

Robertson distinguished himself as one of the few UK politicians to explicitly damn Nuttall’s conflation of all Muslims with terrorism. The Scottish MP made an impassioned case for toleration and safety mentioning that neo-nazi extremism had been on the rise across the Western world, showing that “Ukip is wrong”.

Robertson pointed to the death of Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was killed by a far-right terrorist last year during the height of the EU referendum campaign, as an example of how hate has “no boundaries or limits”.

The SNP candidate for Moray also supported Lucas, Wood and Corbyn in the assertion that foreign policy has some impact on our security at home.

He said: “We are right to question interventions in countries such as Libya” he added, “and shouldn’t be spending more on bombing than on rebuilding.”

Lucas referred to ex-MI5 boss Eliza Manningham-Buller who said the invasion of Iraq increased the UK terror threat. In 2010, Manningham-Buller told the Iraq inquiry that the invasion had radicalised “a few among a generation”.

2). Rudderless

“Not so much iron lady as the u-turn queen” was the line from Angus Robertson in a debate which saw all participants go after May for her absence.

Rudd was left defending the move for much of the evening. She said: “In government you have a broad team of talent, I’m glad to be here tonight”.

Lucas said: “The first rule of leadership is to show up – you don’t say it’s the most important election of our lifetime and not be bothered to show up.”

Lucas also put forward her position of having a referendum on the final Brexit deal, saying it was about “trusting the British people to have the final say” on leaving the EU.

3). Security and the State

Leanne Wood said the UK should be investing more into police as “those are the people running into dangerous situations”.

But the Plaid Cymru leader said cuts to things like youth work stops the ability to challenge the “root cause” of extremism.

Farron focused on ensuring UK civil liberties for all. He clashed with Rudd and Nuttall on their joint accusation that he and Jeremy Corbyn were being soft on terrorists. The Ukip leader cut Farron off saying: “I don’t care about the human rights of a terrorist.”

Farron pointed to the fact that extensive powers that change our way of life terrorist win, divide society and endanger our safety and liberty. He used temporary exclusion orders (TEOs) as an example of an extra mechanism rarely used and rarely able to prevent horrors such as the Manchester attacks. 

TEOs are for UK citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activity abroad. They are designed to stop suspects from re-entering the UK unless they give themselves up at the border.

He said: “The temporary exclusion orders, which exist now – only one has been used in the last two years. What we need is to make sure the services have the resources they need now. Not give more powers without the resources to back it up.”

4). Magic Trees and Foodbanks

Rudd and Corbyn clashed over the economy and austerity with the Home Secretary going after Corbyn on his “magical money tree” – a line of attack used by the Tories to suggest Labour wants to spend without care for the economy or deficit. The Tories have recently come under pressure for not costing any of their manifesto pledges despite ridiculing the Labour party on its figures over the past few weeks.

Corbyn replied by asking Rudd: “Have you been to a food bank? Have you seen the people sleeping around our stations? Have you seen the levels of poverty that exist because of your government’s conscious decisions on benefits?”

In Scotland according to the Trussell Trust, 145,865 emergency food packages have been provided by food banks since April 2016. Glasgow South East foodbank recorded feeding 9033 people last year, which was an 18 per cent rise on the year before.

5). Lucas ahead of the pack

Lucas got the biggest amount of repeated applause from the audience and by many commentators’ analysis had the most successful showing between the speakers. She was the only spokesperson to mention issues such as arms manufacturing in depth and drew a positive response on her answers on increases to social housing and criticism of the Tories on Brexit. In her closing statement, the co-leader of the Green Party said the UK stands “at a crossroads”.

Caroline Lucas said the choice is “stark” but it is time to “stand up for what really matters – openness, tolerance and compassion” rather than looking inward to “isolation, division and hate”.

Picture: CommonSpace

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