With Theresa May set to go head-to-head with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a Question Time special tonight, the Conservatives have urged the BBC to reconsider how they select their audiences after Home Secretary Amber Rudd faced a tough reception when she appeared in Wednesday night’s debate.
Ms Rudd was booed by crowds as she arrived at the studio on Wednesday evening, leading some Brexiteers to accuse the BBC of a left-wing bias.
Boris Johnson told Sky News: "What that debate showed very clearly is the wisdom of the Prime Minister in not coming.
A number of Tory politicians have complained about the alleged audience bias
It’s quite clear there was an anti-Tory bias in the audience, which wasn’t there in the Channel 4 programme on Monday
Iain Duncan Smith
"It was a chaotic cacophony of different voices, and elucidated absolutely nothing, I thought, except for a couple of good points that Amber Rudd was able to get over to Jeremy Corbyn.
"You had the most left-wing audience I’ve ever seen, you had Tim Farron and the Scottish Nationalists supporting Corbyn, and they would effectively be going into the negotiations in Brussels backing him up, but with a very different view of what they want the outcome of the Brexit talks to be."
The TV election debate – in pictures Wed, May 31, 2017
The televised debate saw Jeremy Corbyn, Amber Rudd, Paul Nuttall, Caroline Lucas, Angus Robertson, Tim Farron and Leanne Wood go toe-to-toe
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The politicians taking part in the debate
Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith told the Daily Mail: “Obviously there are questions for the BBC to answer.
"It’s quite clear there was an anti-Tory bias in the audience, which wasn’t there in the Channel 4 programme on Monday.”
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Even former Ukip leader Nigel Farage weighed in, saying the audience appeared to be comprised of “paid up Corbynistas” and “BBC executives should be sacked because of it".
Mrs May’s joint chief-of-staff Fiona Hill is believed to have submitted a formal complaint to BBC director-general Lord Hall about the debate, demanding that there is no repeat of the bias in tonight’s TV audience.
Even the boss of the firm that picked the audience admitted that Conservative minister Amber Rudd and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall faced “a more vocal crowd” than their left-wing rivals.
ComRes chairman Andrew Hawkins, whose firm picked those who attended, said: “If you have a panel of people – one from the governing party [Conservatives], one from what’s regarded as a right-wing party [Ukip] and five from broadly Left-wing parties – and you give those speakers equal airtime, it means you’re giving five slots of airtime to the left-wing parties for every two slots to the not so Left-wing parties.
“Therefore it’s inevitable that the cheering is going to be skewed in one direction.”
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Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were both present at the debate
He added: “There is no question in my mind that Amber Rudd, and to an extent Paul Nuttall, were up against a more vocal crowd – that is for sure.
“But when half the audience is clapping [Jeremy Corbyn] you don’t hear the ones who aren’t clapping.”
Speaking ahead of tonight’s Question Time special, the BBC said the party leaders “will have an equal number of their supporters within the audience” – despite conceding that the corporation will use a similar selection policy for tonight’s debate.
The BBC said: “The Question Time Leaders Special… is a very different programme from the Election Debate, with only one party leader on stage at a time.
“The majority of the audience will be Labour or Conservative, meaning the party leaders will have an equal number of their supporters within the audience.
“The Question Time team are very experienced at bringing audiences together and we are confident it will be fair and balanced.”