Sunak and Starmer couldn’t wait to tear into each other during a ‘snippy’ debate

Both the Starmer and Sunak campaigns agree: the first head-to-head of the election campaign was – in many ways – a difficult watch.

The two men have spent a fortnight on the campaign trail attacking one another from hundreds of miles apart. It was undoubtedly snippy.

Suddenly they were together in a room, able to do it in front of an invited audience – and they couldn’t wait to tear into each other.

As a result they couldn’t wait to bludgeon their opponent’s pre-prepared lines, mock and cajole one another, often talking at the same time.

Election latest:
Voters think Rishi Sunak beat Keir Starmer in first TV debate, snap poll finds

Pic: Jonathan Hordle/ITV - via PA
Pic: Jonathan Hordle/ITV – via PA

A weary ITV host Julie Etchingham repeatedly tried to keep them to time, awkwardly struggling at points to shut both men up as they resisted her attempts to halt them.

The debate quickly settled into a slightly unsatisfactory rhythm: Keir Starmer would accuse his Tory opponent of allowing things to get worse on his watch. Rishi Sunak would return fire saying that his Labour opponent did not have a plan.

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Starmer used ridicule to try to land his points, saying Sunak wouldn’t have called the election early if the economy was doing as well as he claimed and migration was finally under control.

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The moment that most pleased Labour spin doctors was his mockery of Sunak who claimed “waiting lists are coming down”. Starmer responded: “They were at 7.2 million (when he arrived) and they are 7.5 million now… and the guy says he’s good at maths.”

However, Sunak was determined to grill his opponent – pressing 13 times an allegation that Labour rejects that they would raise taxes by £2,000 if they came into power.

Afterwards, Labour spin doctors conceded their man did not reject this point strongly enough, dismissing it rather than explaining why it was wrong and calling it out.

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Tory and Labour candidates clash after TV leader’s debate

Sunak’s most successful moment was highlighting Starmer’s approach on the doctors’ strike. Asked what he will do, the Labour leader replied: “To get in the room and to negotiate with the doctors and come to a settlement.”

This was a level of detail that left his opponent unconvinced.

The Tories hope the lack of detail on questions like tax rises and doctors strike could leave voters wondering what will happen in a Labour government.

The YouGov post debate poll suggests that the public saw no clear winner, with Sunak judged best by 51% and Starmer on 49%. The parties did not dispute this verdict out of hand.

Whether this is enough for Sunak, who is so far behind in this race, we will only discover in the coming days.

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