7 days to go: Watching the debate, so you don't have to

At times in last night's debate, the prospect of switching over to BBC2 to check the progress of a sedated badger was distinctly appealing.

90 minutes of shouting -- so much shouting. At the end of which, frankly, no-one really won, and no-one really lost.

Except perhaps Theresa May, whose absence dominated much of the discussion. Viewers may have agreed with rivals, who criticise her failure to engage in debate ahead of an election she keeps saying is the most important in her lifetime.

Jeremy Corbyn's last minute decision to turn up threw her boycott into sharp focus. Mrs May wanted this election, yet she doesn't want to debate the people who want her job. The Labour leader did OK -- but the debate format isn't really his friend -- it's too close to the Commons, and at times he looked uncomfortable.

Amber Rudd did a very good job of withstanding near-constant attacks from the other 6 on the stage, especially when you consider she lost her father just a few days ago. She may well have insisted on going ahead, determined not to let the Prime Minister down -- but few managers would force someone into such a stressful situation at such a time. 

Angus Robertson was his usual mix of cutting comments and dogmatic attack, but viewers outside Scotland may have simply ignored his comments.

Tim Farron had the best one-liners of the night -- but his anti-Brexit lines were received in silence. It seems even most Remainers now accept un-doing the referendum is very much yesterday's battle.

Paul Nuttall again displayed how hopelessly out of his depth he is in situations like this, parroting old UKIP cliches about population numbers and Brexit.

I'd almost forgotten Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood was there until she dismantled Mr Nuttall with one of the night's best lines.

Perhaps the star of the night was Caroline Lucas. The Green co-leader, with nothing to lose and a huge platform, calmly made her points about poverty, climate change, and Britain's role in the arms trade. It may, however, have won her more respect than votes.

The bigger question is whether debates like this actually change voters' minds. There's little evidence they achieve much at all, except raising the blood pressure of all involved.

That sedated badger was probably a much safer bet.

Mrs Hideaway

Theresa May repeatedly said she'd rather engage with ordinary voters than argue with rival leaders. Yet she apparently spend last night at Downing Street, presumably watching the debate she really ought to have been at.

She risks appearing both scared of the debate, and arrogant in assuming victory. But, overall, the decision to stay away was almost certainly the right one. Prime Ministers only agree to debates when they're in trouble. Otherwise, why put your rivals on an equal footing, and open yourself to a six-sided attack.

Allowing Amber Rudd to take the hit instead, so soon after such awful personal news, was however a poor decision.

Today Mrs May will, as usual, bang on about Brexit - having turned her party's campaign into a personality cult, she now seeks to co-opt the UK's departure from the EU as part of a one-woman crusade.

Toddlers' tantrums

As you'd expect, last night's debate was followed by the usual ranting about bias, usually from people who themselves are somewhat partisan.

This time, however, one of the most prominent voices alleging a left-wing bias in the audience was from the left-leaning New Statesman.

The BBC denied the allegation, but it was enough for the frothier tabloids to get worked up. A cynic might argue papers like the Mail want to distract from Theresa May's no-show. It's a good opportunity to dig out this blog I wrote 3 years ago on the endless claims of bias.


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