Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were left bruised but not battered as they survived tough questioning from voters and veteran interviewer Jeremy Paxman on Sky News.
In the 90-minute programme, the Prime Minister was repeatedly challenged on her policy u-turns – while the Labour leader was grilled on his past support for the IRA.
Both leaders dodged some awkward questions: Mr Corbyn on whether he would order the killing of a terrorist threatening an attack on the UK, and Mrs May on the Conservatives’ social care policy.
Supporters of both party leaders claimed victory after the Battle For Number 10 show by Sky News and Channel 4 – the first in this General Election to be broadcast in front of a live TV audience.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “The Prime Minister brought it back to the fundamentals – who is going to get the best Brexit deal, and in doing so who will be able to secure our economy, our public services and our national security.”
And a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Theresa May floundered on her record on police cuts, on funding for our NHS and schools, and on her manifesto policy on social care that didn’t last more than a few days before it was amended with an unspecified cap.”
At times, Jeremy Paxman was scathing about both party leaders – claiming the PM’s u-turns made her look like a “blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire”.
:: The verdict on Corbyn and May’s studio grilling
Mr Corbyn’s most uncomfortable moments during questions from the audience came when it was claimed he had “openly supported the IRA in the past” by attending a commemoration for IRA members killed by the SAS.
In reply, Mr Corbyn said there was a period of silence for “everyone who died in Northern Ireland” at the 1987 event.
Another member of the audience said he could not vote Labour due to Mr Corbyn’s “ruthless, shortsighted” policies, which include raising corporation tax to 26%, a £10-an-hour minimum wage and imposing VAT on private school fees.
Replying to another man who said he liked the Labour manifesto but did not see him as “someone who could run this country”, Mr Corbyn said he saw himself as a listening politician.
And in one of his better moments during the programme, he pointed to his ear first and then his mouth, and said: “Leadership is as much about using this as using this.”
Mr Corbyn refused to be drawn on immigration levels under Labour after Brexit, though he said they would “probably” be no higher than at present.
:: The Battle for Number 10: What we learned (and what we didn’t)
Then, in fierce clashes with Mr Paxman, Mr Corbyn was asked why he had been unable to get his long-held belief in nuclear disarmament into the Labour manifesto, which backs the renewal of the Trident deterrent system.
“This manifesto is the product of the views of the Labour Party – party conference decisions and the views put forward by individuals in the shadow cabinet,” Mr Corbyn said.
The renewal of Trident was “a conference decision by the Labour Party and as the leader of the party I accept the democracy of our party”, the leader added.
As Mr Paxman repeatedly interrupted him, Mr Corbyn said light-heartedly at one point: “Come on, give us a chance.”
And when he was challenged over why some of his “core beliefs” – such as nationalising banks – did not feature in the Labour manifesto, he said: “I’m not a dictator who writes things to tell people what to do.”
The Labour leader appeared surprised when asked why he was not proposing to abolish the British monarchy, saying: “It’s not on anybody’s agenda, it’s certainly not on my agenda.”
During her grilling from the studio audience, Mrs May was accused by a police officer of presiding over “devastating” cuts, asked by a midwife to justify her “chronic underfunding” of the NHS and heckled over school funding.
She told the police officer: “What we had to do when we came into government in 2010 was to ensure that we were living within our means and that was very important because of the economic situation we had inherited.
“It’s not just about the numbers of police – people often focus on the numbers of police. It’s actually about what the police are able to do and how they are being deployed on our streets.”
Mrs May was then tackled on social care plans, dubbed the “dementia tax”, by an elderly audience member wearing a military tie and blazer, who asked: “Why should we in my generation vote for you?”
She told him: “We will put an absolute cap on the level of money that people have to spend on care.
“And I think what we’re doing is ensuring we can have a sustainable solution for the long-term.”
She was then heckled by an audience member after a replying to a question on school funding, saying: “Nobody can guarantee the real terms per pupil funding increase.”
:: ‘You’ve clearly failed’: Voter heckles May
:: Corbyn: I won’t be soft on terror if I become PM
Mrs May also repeated her “no deal is better than a bad deal” slogan when asked if she was prepared to walk away from Brexit talks.
When Mr Paxman asked whether she was prepared to walk away, Mrs May replied: “I think you have to. In negotiations you have to recognise that you’re not in there to get a deal at any price.”
But the toughest exchanges for the Prime Minister came when Mr Paxman challenged her on a series of u-turns, on social care, national insurance and calling an election.
Mr Paxman told her: “What one’s bound to say is that if I was sitting in Brussels and I was looking at you as the person I had to negotiate with, I’d think ‘she’s a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire’.”
:: Watch the highlights of May v Corbyn: The Battle For Number 10 on Sky News at 2.30pm and 4.30pm.
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