General election debate: A matter of five versus two?

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

Related Topics
media captionKey moments from the seven-way BBC election debate

Seven different parties, a rainbow of political colours, met on stage.

And inevitably, the tone of the debate was more sombre, fewer signs of the political pantomime that has dominated so much of the conversation in this election so far.

All of the politicians of course spent time paying tribute to the bravery of the members of the public who ran towards danger on London Bridge. They all emphasised the need to support the police and security services.

But that was more or less where the unity ended. A group of five against two developed quickly.

Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid and the Greens attacked the duet of the Tories and the Brexit Party on the central issues - not just Brexit, but also on the NHS.

There is no formal pact, of course, between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives, despite the suggestions of opposition parties in recent weeks.

Yet, throughout the 90 minutes, it was Brexiteers versus the rest, whether on our relationship with the EU, or their attitude to the health service.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionRichard Tice and Nicola Sturgeon clashed during the debate

In truth, the sparkiest clashes were not between the Labour representative Rebecca Long-Bailey and the Tories' Rishi Sunak, but between SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice. The animosity between the two of them crackled throughout the programme.

There were no huge revelations from the stage, although there were spirited clashes on Brexit, the economy, immigration and the NHS.

But in a sense the display was representative of the campaign as a whole - like it or not, millions of people will decide on Remain versus Leave.

The overall challenge for the Conservatives: keep the Leave vote together and they hope to return to Number 10. While the Brexit Party is standing against the Tories in plenty of seats, on the big calls they were on the same side during the debate, just as on the biggest question in the campaign, even though they could still cause the Tories a lot of trouble in areas where they hope to unseat Labour.

But the Tories' hopes are based on keeping Brexiteers together.

Their advantage is not just that Labour's official position is to give the public another go at making the decision, without the leader making his own view known. But that in all corners of the country there are different players who want to stay in the EU.

Here in Wales there are seats where the smaller groups have agreed to become a temporary tribe with a form of a Remain alliance. In some places that means that the Remain bloc will splinter into support for several different parties.

In the first-past-the-post system that decides who is sent to Westminster, it's not who is third, fourth, or fifth that counts, but who is the number one.

More on this story