LONDON—Britain’s main opposition leader castigated Prime Minister Theresa May for refusing to debate him on live television Wednesday, as narrowing opinion polls injected drama into the country’s election campaign.
In a last-minute change of plan, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joined a multiparty debate organized by the BBC in Cambridge. May has refused to do any live TV debates, and Corbyn had previously said he wouldn’t take part without her.
But buoyed by rising poll ratings — and the chance to make May look evasive — Corbyn changed his mind.
“I invite her to go to Cambridge and debate her policies, debate their record, debate their plans, debate their proposals and let the public make up their mind,” he said.
Corbyn was joined at the debate by representatives of smaller parties, including Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and U.K. Independence Party chief Paul Nuttall.
The Conservatives were represented by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who accused Labour of having a “money-tree, wish-list manifesto and no plan for Brexit.”
The other participants traded barbs over everything from immigration to public spending, but were united in attacking May’s refusal to appear.
“Theresa May called this election because she is taking you for granted,” said Leanne Wood, leader of the Welsh party Plaid Cymru. “She won’t turn up to these debates because her campaign of soundbites is falling apart.”
At a campaign rally in southwest England, May denied she was running scared.
“I’ve been taking Jeremy Corbyn on directly week in and week out at Prime Minister’s Questions” in the House of Commons, she said.
“I think debates where the politicians are squabbling amongst themselves doesn’t do anything for the process of electioneering.”
May called a snap parliamentary election for June 8 — three years early — arguing that a bigger majority for her Conservatives will strengthen Britain’s hand in Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
When campaigning began last month, polls showed the Conservatives up to 20 points ahead of Labour. Since then, the bombing that killed 22 people at a Manchester concert and some policy missteps by May’s party have thrown the contest into uncertainty.
The pound fell below $1.28 Wednesday, its lowest level in more than a month, after pollster YouGov suggested Britain could be headed for a hung Parliament in which no party has an overall majority.
YouGov stressed that was just one possible result of its research, which is based on a mix of polling and demographic modeling.
But it follows a trend.
“Every single pollster, using whatever method, has found a rise in Labour support and something of a decline in Conservative support,” said polling expert John Curtice.
Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said there are still many unknowns — especially whether young voters, who have shifted to Labour in large numbers, will actually turn out to vote on June 8.
But he said the outcome of the election was now in doubt.
“We can’t be sure Theresa May is going to achieve her political objective of a landslide majority,” he said. “We don’t know whether she is going to achieve her original ambition in calling this election or not. That’s what’s changed.”