Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood, UKIP leader Paul Nuttal, Scottish National Party deputy leader Angus Robertson all took part in the Wednesday night BBC event, while May chose to send her Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
May had made it clear that she would not partake in the debates and prefers “taking questions and meeting people” directly rather than “squabbling” with other politicians.
However, that did not keep the other party leaders from criticizing her decision to dodge their grilling.
While Corbyn did not directly object to the issue, he did say point to the issue at one point, saying, “where is Theresa May, what happened to her?” before defending his own leadership skills.
Lucas also took issue with May’s absence and said the “first rule of leadership is to show up.”
Wood said May’s decision was a sign that “her campaign of soundbites is falling apart.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Robertson accused May of lacking the “guts” to take part in the event.
Rudd tried to downplay the overwhelming criticism by branding the opposition parties as a “coalition of chaos.” She also tried to defend May’s move by arguing that “part of being a good leader is having a good, strong team.”
Rudd tried to attract support for May by directing her attacks at Corbyn, the main opposition candidate whose chances of a victory have been rising on a daily basis.
Claiming that the Tories had “made a clear decision to protect the poorest in our society,” the Home Secretary said May’s rivals were all touting “fanciful” pledges and offered nothing but “bluff, bravado and tempting, shiny election promises.”
“Jeremy Corbyn with his money tree, wish list manifesto and no plan for Brexit or Theresa May with her record of delivery,” she argued.
Corbyn began by repeating his campaign motto, saying the election was about “whether we want a country for the many or just a few?”
“Now the Conservatives want five more years of cuts to our vital public services, to fund tax handouts for the wealthy few,” he said.
“On June 8 you have a choice: More cuts in services and living standards with the Conservatives or vote Labour to transform Britain for the many, not the few,” he added.
Although the debate had no clear winners, the consensus among most analysts was that Corbyn scored a crucial victory over May by showing up.