BBC accused of left-wing bias as audience appears to support Jeremy Corbyn in election TV debate

Most enthusiastic applause of the evening came when Amber Rudd was grilled on cuts to disability benefits and sales of arms to Saudi Arabia

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The BBC has been accused of “left wing bias” following last night’s election debate between the parties by those on the right and some on social media who claimed to be "middle ground".

Leaders and representatives from seven parties faced a grilling from a Cambridge studio audience, with Prime Minister Theresa May sending Home Secretary Amber Rudd in to bat for her against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the other five politicians.

The audience was selected by the polling firm ComRes and the BBC said it was made up of a representative mix of supporters from across the parties and those who have yet to make up their mind, as well as evenly split between those who voted to leave the EU and those who opted to remain.

Strict rules by watchdog Ofcom state that the BBC must strive to be politically unbiased, but not everyone was convinced the corporation had done a good job in the audience selection process.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage tweeted: “This is Déjà vu. In 2015 I called out the BBC audience for being hard left wing. It’s even worse this time.

“The BBC audience was full of left wingers tonight and BBC executives should be sacked because of it.”

Some took to social media to echo this sentiment, with one user, Warren Allsworth, writing: “BBC. This is not good enough. As a middle ground voter even I can see that this audience is so biased to the left it’s laughable.”

Even some left-leaning commentators agreed, with George Eaton, editor of the New Statesman, tweeting: “This feels like the most left-wing audience in any TV debate.”

But others defended the BBC, which is frequently accused of bias by those on the left as well as those on the right. The corporation and the wider media have repeatedly been accused of being institutionally biased against Jeremy Corbyn, with veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby this week saying he doesn't think the Labour leader has had a "fair deal" from newspapers.

One person replied to Mr Farage: "It was balanced based on parties. However, as Ukip was the only right-wing party, it would seem bias to Farage."

Mr Eaton took to Twitter again this morning to say he had merely been making a "casual observation" about the make-up of the audience.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “The BBC commissioned polling company ComRes to recruit an audience that is representative of the country demographically and politically. They have lots of experience doing this. This covered age; gender; ethnicity; socio-economic; party politics; how they voted in EU referendum; and some undecided.'

Moderated by Mishal Husain, the audience asked questions on matters including the health service, Brexit, immigration, terrorism and security and their own leadership style. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron lined up with Ms Rudd and Mr Corbyn to debate the Government’s record and lay out their manifesto pledges ahead of next Thursday’s general election.

Ms Husain was heckled when she reminded Mr Corbyn of an interview on the Today programme this week when he was unable to answer questions on the cost of a new flagship childcare policy.

The audience cheered loudest on mentions of the scrapping of disability benefits and the selling of arms by the UK to regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which appears to have sparked the claims of “left-wing bias” in some of this morning’s newspapers as well as online and from Tory politicians.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the debate "validated and confirmed" Ms May's decision not to take, describing the debate as a "yammering cacophony of voices". 

Mr Corbyn's performance was generally judged as steady, with many people praising his last-minute decision to take part, having previously said he wouldn't because of the Prime Minister's refusal to participate.