Six key takeaways from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s final TV debate before the election

Six key takeaways from the last TV leadership debate

10 minutes ago

By Jennifer McKiernan, @_JennyMcKiernanPolitical reporter, BBC News


The gloves were off as Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer went head-to-head in the final TV debate of the election between the leaders.

With just over a week to go before 4 July polling day, this was an opportunity for prime minister Rishi Sunak’s to make an impact on the polls, with the Conservative Party trailing Labour by 20 points.

Here are some of the best verbal tussles from the 75 minutes of the BBC’s debate.

Attack, attack, attack

Mr Sunak learnt from his previous debate appearances and went on the attack from the get-go.

He repeatedly interrupted the Labour leader to dominate some early sections of the debate, notably on immigration.

The prime minister also turned interrogator, demanding to know Labour’s plan to deal with small boats and insisting Sir Keir was “not being straight with people”.

The Labour leader tried to rise above the hectoring, sighing and giving exasperated responses, but his frustration was evident.

Pointing out that immigration numbers “have gone through the roof” under Mr Sunak’s premiership, Sir Keir also talked about prosecuting criminal gangs and terrorists as the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sir Keir got the first applause of the night for his own comeback when Mr Sunak again interrupted, suggesting “if you listened to people in the audience, across the country, you might not be so out of touch.”

Protesters disrupt the start of the debate

As the debate started, shouts could be heard in the background throughout the first 20 minutes or so of the debate – and a few loud bangs as well.

This was from a group of pro-Palestinian protesters standing outside Nottingham Trent University.

Debate chair Mishal Husain acknowledged the disruption part-way through, flagging that protest is a valid part of UK democracy.

Taxing times for the leaders

There had been criticism of Sir Keir’s performance during the first debate for failing to shut down Mr Sunak’s attacks on taxes.

The time, Mr Sunak had a new attack line, claiming a Labour shadow minister had said that public spending could reach hundreds of billions of pounds on green energy – which Sir Keir immediately branded “false”.

Mr Sunak was also punchy over a string of council bankruptcies, including in Labour-run Nottingham, where the debate was being held, claiming they were a “snapshot” of what would happen under a Labour government.

Despite Labour committing to keep the pensions triple lock (which means the state pension is increased by whichever is highest of average earnings growth, inflation, or 2.5%), Mr Sunak claimed the party wanted to introduce a “retirement tax”.

Sir Keir hit back, saying Mr Sunak “has raised taxes 26 times” and queried why the Tories had not acted sooner on the economy.

Don’t surrender…

Mr Sunak ended his response to many questions with a plea to voters not to “surrender” to Labour – whether on borders, finances or council taxes.

But Sir Keir was quick to jump on how Mr Sunak handled the election bets saga, which he said showed the PM had failed to “lead from the front” on standards in politics more generally, and also raised Mr Sunak’s Partygate police fine.

Even the audience got personal

The two leaders were more frank with each other than ever during this debate.

Even audience members didn’t pull their punches, with one accusing Mr Sunak of being “a pretty mediocre prime minister” before rounding on Sir Keir and claiming his “strings are being pulled” by senior Labour members.

“Are you two really the best we’ve got to be the next prime minister of our great country?” he asked, to loud applause.

Notably, although Sir Keir and Mr Sunak both shook Ms Husain’s hand at the end of the debate, they appeared to avoid doing the same to each other.

What does it mean to be a woman?

Culture war issues were raised, with a section focusing on women’s rights and trans rights in single sex spaces.

Mr Sunak was quick to assert his belief that protecting women’s spaces was vital.

Sir Keir jabbed at Mr Sunak for a lack of compassion, saying he had joked about trans issues in front of grieving mother of Brianna Ghey, a trans teenager who was murdered.

He urged the PM to “stop always trying to divide everybody” by using human beings as a “political football” to loud whoops of approval from some in the crowd.

General election 2024


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