U.K. Voters Grill May and Corbyn in Last TV Event of Election

  • May, who’s seen lead fall, tells audience she’s got ‘balls’
  • Corbyn faces questions on nuclear weapons and terrorism

Why the U.K. is Heading to the Polls… Again

The final television event of Britain’s general election campaign saw both Prime Minister Theresa May and her main challenger, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, take a pummeling from angry voters.

May has refused to directly debate Corbyn, and so the BBC’s “Question Time” featured the two leaders consecutively, with the prime minister going first. There was no gentle warming up, with the opening questioner accusing her of “broken promises and backtracking.”

Theresa May taking part in Question Time on June 2.

Photographer: WPA Pool/Getty Images

It was the toughest audience May has faced in a campaign where her appearances have been tightly controlled, and it got a rise out of the prime minister. “I had the balls to call an election,” she retorted at one point, using distinctly unparliamentary language.

May’s campaign has stumbled as the date of the election approaches, with Corbyn’s Labour Party closing in on her in the polls. The prime minister is worried enough to have allowed Defense Secretary Michael Fallon to give an interview ruling out tax rises for higher earners, a promise that was left out of the election manifesto.

"We’re not in the business of punishing people for getting on, on the contrary we want people to keep more of their earnings," Fallon told the Telegraph newspaper in an interview. “The only way they can be sure their taxes won’t rise is to vote Conservative.”

Rough Patches

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Photographer: Stefan Rousseau/AFP via Getty Images

Both sides saw moments in the BBC show when their opponents hit weak areas. For Corbyn the questioning started more gently, but he became irritable when repeatedly asked about whether he’d be prepared to use nuclear weapons. “I think we have discussed this at some length,” he complained.

Corbyn’s answer was to go around the question. He wouldn’t, he explained, want to get to the situation where he had to decide whether to press the button. “That’s the ideal,” the host, David Dimbleby, told him. “But what about the reality?”

Corbyn wants to get rid of Britain’s Trident weapons system. “I’d rather have it and not use it than not have it at all,” an audience member told him.

“Do you want to comment on that?” Dimbleby asked the Labour leader. Corbyn shook his head.

His stance won support from some. One woman asked why so many of her fellow audience members seemed so keen to kill millions of people.

Read more: QuickTake Q&A on Britain’s Whipsawing Election Polls

Earlier, May had her own awkward moments, challenged by audience members about spending on health. A nurse complained his pay had fallen 14 percent in real terms. “Don’t tell us it’s a pay rise,” he said.

May was unapologetic. “There isn’t a magic money tree we can shake,” she said.

Corbyn’s other difficult moment came as he was challenged about his past relationship with Irish terrorist groups. “I don’t approve of any terrorism of any sort, any terrorist act of any sort,” he said.

An audience member pressed him on whether he would condemn the Irish Republican Army, which ran a decades-long campaign of bombings and shooting. "They did kill a lot of people, didn’t they?" he was asked.

“All deaths are wrong,” Corbyn replied. It’s a clip that the Conservatives will be happy to play out in online ads over the next six days.

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