Jeremy Corbyn turning up to tonight’s TV debate could define this election

The Labour leader is on a roll, and he’s put Theresa May on the spot.

Jeremy Corbyn has thrown down the gauntlet. He’s the bullied kid in school who’s decided he’s not taking anyone’s shit any more. “You. Me. Playground after school. Let’s go.” This is it. He’s taking part in tonight’s (May 31) leaders’ debate in Cambridge. And he’s put Theresa May in a bit of a pickle.

Does she:
1) Also agree to take part, bowing to Corbyn’s demands, thus bringing about hundreds more ‘u-turn’ jibes.
2) Refuse to take part, leaving Corbyn to steal tonight’s agenda and potentially win over a new pack of voters, while also being pegged as someone who, in her opponent’s words, treats “the public with contempt.”

It’s a bit of a lose-lose situation. Unless she shows up in Cambridge, floors Corbyn in a verbal take-down and exits stage right, there’s no winning this one (unless he fails miserably).

At the time of writing, May is refusing to be drawn into battle. She told reporters while campaigning in Bath that she has been “been taking Jeremy Corbyn on directly week in, week out at prime minister’s questions.” Not the same thing, but go on… “I feel sorry for ITV – why didn’t he do their debate?!” she added, essentially dodging the question. Right now, her reputation is faltering and fast.

Earlier this week (Monday May 29), Corbyn and May shared the spoils in a Channel 4 / Sky News election Q&A. One part of the session saw both leaders fielding questions from carefully selected ‘average members of the Great British public’. The other consisted of Jeremy Paxman launching random questions like a tennis ball machine gone rogue. Thanks to Paxman losing his edge as an interviewer, and there being no real standout blooper, both leaders emerged unscathed.

Corbyn clearly sees tonight as an opportunity to further establish himself as a ‘man of the people’. He’s the leader who listens, and tonight he’s likely to cut a reasonable figure, instead of someone hungry to give soundbites. He’ll be called out for going back on his word, but even the likes of Nigel Farage – a man who doesn’t have a fragment of Corbynmania in his DNA – are saying the Labour leader has done the “right thing”.

When asked about televised debates, 55% of 18-to-34 year olds surveyed by The Stream said they wanted to see all leaders involved in the debate. Over a third said the debates helped them decide who to vote for. If Theresa May does indeed hold her ground and sit out tonight’s challenge, she’ll continue to let down the younger generation.

With the polls narrowing, June 8’s result is looking increasingly up in the air. NME’s ‘plus one’ campaign wants you to take a mate to the polls. We know you’re a great person and you’ve already registered. But next Thursday, make sure your mates are up to speed.

With eight days to go, the Most Important General Election Of Your Lifetimeᵀᴹ just got more important.