May's Decision to Skip TV Debate Slammed by Party Leaders

  • Prime minister ‘can’t be bothered,’ Farron tells viewers
  • Rudd stands in for May despite death of father earlier in week

May Takes Center Stage at Debate She Didn’t Attend

Theresa May’s decision to skip a televised election debate threatened to rebound on her as other party leaders lambasted her absence, saying it proved she’s unfit to lead Britain.

The prime minister’s place was taken at the BBC debate in the university city of Cambridge on Wednesday night by one of the most senior ministers in her Conservative government, Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She went through with the appearance even though her father died earlier this week, according to two Tory officials who asked not to be named as the information wasn’t public.

“The prime minister is not here tonight. She can’t be bothered,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told viewers at the end of the 90-minute debate. "You’re not worth Theresa May’s time. Don’t give her yours."

May decided to stick to her decision not to take part even though Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn announced he would do so earlier Wednesday. His challenge to the prime minister followed a week during which May has seen her previously 20 percentage-point lead over Labour dwindle to as little as 3 points, according to a YouGov poll for the Times newspaper published on Wednesday evening. On Tuesday, a projection by YouGov Plc suggested the June 8 vote could lead to the Tories losing their majority in Parliament.

Read about whether you can believe what the opinion polls are saying

“Theresa May called this election because she is taking you for granted,” Leanne Wood, who heads the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, said in her opening statement. "She won’t turn up to these debates because her campaign of soundbites is falling apart."

Others soon joined in, with the Scottish National Party’s leader in the U.K. Parliament, Angus Robertson, dubbing May "not so much the iron lady as the u-turn queen."

Rudd herself sometimes gave the impression of wishing to be somewhere else. "Thank you, Tim, for that pass,” she told Farron after his attack on her absent boss. At another point she turned to Robertson. “Don’t give up on me yet, Angus,” she said. “Theresa May may not be here, but I hope to make a good fist of setting out Tory policy.”

Then, in a slip that might hint that she has ambitions for the top job herself, she asked him: “Have you not read my manifesto?”

Nomura International’s Jordan Rochester, Manulife Asset Management’s Megan Green on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Americas."

(Source: Bloomberg)

May’s absence was even mocked by the Netflix series “House of Cards,” about a fictional U.S. president. In a tweet addressed to the prime minister, it said: "They respect you more when you show strength. Or show up."

Corbyn himself did not directly attack the prime minister for her absence, choosing instead to address criticism of his own leadership style. That, he said, was about being able to listen and not being "high and mighty."

May will seek to offset any fallout from her absence at the debate with a speech in northeast England Thursday. She will try to refocus her campaign on Brexit, describing her “great national mission" to make the U.K. more prosperous.

“If we get Brexit right, we can be a confident, self-governing country once again," she will say, according to extracts released by her office. "A country that takes the decisions that matter to Britain here in Britain.”

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