UK Election Countdown: Amber light

Theresa May considers Amber Rudd a reliable ally, although the home secretary has apparently been willing to question the prime minister in private © Getty

The takeaway: the importance of Corbyn v Rudd

Tonight’s seven-way televised debate will make for fascinating viewing. Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to represent Labour shows the increased confidence of its campaign. It was apparently planned since Monday, cooked up to embarrass the Tories. Following the Labour leader’s successful turn in Monday’s televisual feast with Theresa May, he will engage in a proper debate with representatives from the UK’s smaller parties: Tim Farron, Paul Nuttall, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood. Oh, and Amber Rudd, the Tory home secretary, given that May is apparently too busy getting on with Brexit to join the others (not really, she is dodging).

For the five fringe debaters, any publicity is good publicity at this stage in the campaign. But for Corbyn and Rudd the stakes are high. He must show that Monday’s performance was not a fluke and that he is skilled enough and quick enough on his feet to defeat the arguments of the other leaders (particularly the Liberal Democrats and the Green party, who are stalking his every move). It’s an opportunity for Corbyn to put his disastrous Woman’s Hour interview behind him and show a better command of his policies. Rudd, on the other hand, might sink or swim. If she can defeat the Labour leader, she will win a special place in Tory hearts as the person who stalled Corbyn’s momentum and put the Conservative campaign back on track.

But if Rudd fails, it will be her ambitions in the short and medium term that will stall. As the rumours of Philip Hammond’s imminent departure from the Treasury swirl, she is judged by many to be the most likely candidate to succeed him as chancellor. And for many Tories, she is also a potential leader in waiting to succeed May. Tonight is a crucial opportunity for Rudd to show whether she has what it takes. She would be wise not to underestimate Corbyn — he has proved tricky to pin down and his populist charms might work well with the audience in Cambridge. Tune in at 7:30pm to see what happens.

Hung, drawn and quartered — Matt Singh’s take

It’s useful to clarify how YouGov’s new election model is put together. It is based on polling data, but not a poll in itself. It is also a “nowcast”, showing the projected state of the voting intention as things stand today, rather than a forecast of what will happen on June 8. YouGov’s model uses a statistical technique called Multilevel Regression with Poststratification (MRP), which takes polling data to build a model of the electorate from census data, rather than trying to derive a representative sample through weighting. It’s a clever technique, but it can still go awry if the underlying data contain biases that the model doesn’t take into account.

Who won the air war today

Labour. The bold move to put the party’s leader forward for tonight’s debate placed the Conservatives on the back foot once again. All the debate has consisted of today is why the Tories didn’t put their leader forward. May will try to return the focus to Brexit again tomorrow — a comfortable topic for the party and prime minister.

Good day

Jeremy Corbyn*. “I have never been afraid of a debate in my life,” the Labour leader said today as he seized the initiative. *If he puts in a poor performance and tonight’s debate backfires, it could turn out to be a bad decision and bad day after all.

Bad day

Theresa May. The prime minister had little choice but to dodge tonight’s debate at this late notice. Otherwise she would have appeared to be dancing to her rival’s tune. But it was unwise to give four different reasons for avoiding the platform. She should have stuck to the simple logic that the debates are a distraction and she is focused on the stump. 

Must-read comment

The Financial Times endorses the Conservatives, albeit with no blank cheques:

Labour’s team is unfit for government, let alone the delicate Brexit talks. The Liberal Democrats have failed to make an impact with their pledge of a second EU referendum. All the evidence points to the end of European-style coalition and the return of two-party politics, with the exception of Scotland where the independence movement remains slightly diminished but a potent force.

Faced with such uncertainty at home and abroad, Mrs May is the safer bet. But accepting her as prime minister does not amount to a blank cheque. A substantially increased Conservative majority, even a landslide, could lead to an increase in the number of hardline Eurosceptics, who advocate a crash exit from the EU, a contemporary version of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The New Statesman endorses Labour:

We have never supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or Corbynism. But this is not a Conservative or a Liberal journal, nor has it ever been one, even though J M Keynes was our chairman in the 1930s. Today, our politics are liberal, sceptical and unpredictable, in keeping with our founding mission, which was to campaign for a more just society.

And yet, for all our criticism of Mr Corbyn, we do not want to live in a one-party state, in England or in Scotland. And we desperately want effective opposition, in England and Scotland. (Labour is in power in Wales.) We do not want a return to the politics of the 1930s, when Labour had been routed, and the country experienced hunger marches and the rise of fascism. And we want all traditions of the Labour Party to be represented in the leadership and shadow cabinet.

Number of the day: 3

The current Conservative poll lead, according to YouGov’s latest analysis. It’s something of an outlier, given that the latest poll from Kantar has Labour 10 points behind and ICM 12 points. Unlike the last election, there doesn’t seem to be any herding towards a certain number. There will be some red faces on June 8 at this rate.

One last thought

The Conservative message from the off was to vote for May’s Team, yet it was hard to see who was in that team apart from the prime minister. One of the major changes since Lynton Crosby took a grip of the Tory campaign operation last weekend was to initiate Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd and Michael Fallon into Team May. Boris is the living embodiment of Crosby’s dead cat strategy, lapping up media attention and spouting soundbites that other politicians struggle to better. Rudd is notionally the safe pair of hands who can hammer home May’s message (we’ll see in the debate tonight if that is true). Davis is Mr Brexit, cheerily explaining why it’s all going to be fine in the end and he can see it through. And Fallon is the attack dog: gunning for Labour and its leadership in an aggressive way that the others avoid. It’s a solid line-up, but why wasn’t it deployed from the off? Team May’s cheerleaders are loyal to May (for now) and would have added some diversity to the endless repetition of “strong and stable leadership”. Conservative HQ will be hoping they haven’t been brought in too late to make a difference.

State of the race

sebastian.payne@ft.com

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