BBC election debate: Five key things

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Media captionWatch highlights from the BBC debate

Senior politicians from seven parties – although not the prime minister – took part in the BBC election debate on Wednesday.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd went head-to-head Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, Green co-leader Caroline Lucas and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.

Defending her absence, Mrs May said she preferred “taking questions and meeting people” on the campaign trail rather than “squabbling” with other politicians.

Here are five key themes from the showdown.

1. Where’s Theresa?

“WhereisTheresa” was trending before the debate began, and the party leaders didn’t let the PM’s absence be forgotten.

Leanne Wood went on the attack first, saying Mrs May was not there because “her campaign of soundbites is falling apart”.

Mr Farron was hot on her heels, quipping: “Where do you think Theresa May is tonight? Take a look out your window. She might be out there sizing up your house to pay for your social care.”

For the SNP deputy leader, the PM’s no-show was evidence she lacked “guts”.

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn asked “where is Theresa May, what happened to her?” as he defended his own leadership abilities. Ms Lucas said the “first rule of leadership is to show up”.

However, it was the Lib Dem leader who persistently went after Mrs May, telling voters they should “make a brew” and watch Bake Off instead because the PM “couldn’t be bothered” to turn up.

Twitter users also embraced the theme with memes searching for the PM.

2. Magic money trees

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Media captionWhich party will help those in need?

Ms Rudd repeatedly accused Mr Corbyn of having a “magic money tree” – most notably after he attacked a Tory U-turn on disability benefits and accused the party of planning more cuts.

“Jeremy, I know there is no extra payment you don’t want to add to, no tax you don’t want to rise… we have to stop thinking – as you do – that there is a magic money tree,” she said.

Mr Corbyn counter-attacked on poverty, asking Ms Rudd whether she had ever been to a food bank or seen people sleeping around stations.

But the “magic money tree” kept reappearing.

“May’s strong and stable replaced by Rudd’s ‘magic money tree’,” was the Guardian deputy editor Paul Johnson’s verdict.

3. Clash over immigration

It was inevitable that a question about Brexit would turn into a debate about immigration.

Tim Farron cited a doctor receiving racial abuse as a consequence of what happens when you “demonise” migrants.

The UKIP leader – who Ms Lucas accused of “hate-filled rhetoric” on immigration – denied claims he was demonising immigrants, but insisted: “We have to get the population under control.”

Ms Rudd said it was important to have an immigration policy the UK can control, while Mr Corbyn said he wanted it to be “fair”.

Arguably the most powerful moment came when Mr Robertson said the debate about immigration “shames and demeans us all”.

4. The coalition of chaos

Image copyright PA

It’s been a while since the Tory party had to talk about a coalition, but Ms Rudd kept mentioning the “coalition of chaos”.

She said a vote for anyone other than Theresa May would be a “vote for Jeremy Corbyn and that coalition” – and all the “squabbling” made her realise how chaotic a coalition would be.

Ms Wood wasn’t too happy about the suggestion, hitting back that it was the Conservative Party and UKIP that were in coalition.

The debate was difficult to follow at times, with politicians interrupting and shouting over each other. “Let him speak” and “can I finish?” were common mantras.

Image copyright Jim Pickard
Image copyright Lucy Woodcock

5. Farron packed in punchlines

Tim Farron’s one-liners, which weren’t reserved for Mrs May’s no-show, went down a storm on social media.

Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson joked that the Lib Dem leader added 500,000 viewers to the viewing figures for Bake Off.

But it was the Plaid Cymru leader’s personal attack on UKIP leader Paul Nuttall that arguably attracted the most attention.

Criticising the party’s approach to Brexit, she suggested the UKIP leader was someone who would try to divorce his wife without paying, adding: “We all know about blokes like you.”

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