pollitician : Starmer raised his game and Sunak fell flat in leaders' event - with time running out for the Tories

pollitician : Starmer raised his game and Sunak fell flat in leaders' event - with time running out for the Tories
pollitician : Starmer raised his game and Sunak fell flat in leaders' event - with time running out for the Tories

Thursday 13 June 2024 02:46 AM

newsonline - No wonder Rishi Sunak wanted a head-to-head debate with Sir Keir Starmer. After being credited with a narrow win in last week's ITV debate, here he came off second best.

The prime minister was flat under tough interrogation from Sky News political editor Beth Rigby. And he found the audience was hostile towards him on the NHS, the economy and even immigration.

It's no surprise, then, that the YouGov snap poll published less than half an hour after the programme finished scored the performances as 64% for Sir Keir and just 36% for Mr Sunak.

What a turnaround in just over a week.

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From the outset, Sir Keir clearly realised he needed to raise his game after last week, when he was too sluggish in challenging or rebutting Mr Sunak's £2,000 Labour tax grab allegation.

By the time the 90-minute programme was nearing its finish, Mr Sunak looked deflated by the audience criticism and almost as if he couldn't wait for it to end.

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Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player 3:32

Did Sunak's claims add up?

Mr Sunak even stumbled into a blunder that will reinforce his critics' claim that this millionaire prime minister is out of touch with the cost of living plight ordinary people are facing.

When a father asked about his daughter's struggle to buy a house, Mr Sunak talked about a property costing £425,000. In Grimsby? Oh dear. Really, prime minister!

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A Rightmove search for Grimsby reveals that out of 914 properties currently listed for sale in the town, only 13 are up for £425,000 or more. His political opponents will seize on that.

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After his pummelling on tax last week, Sir Keir wasted no time in hitting back, declaring he'd take no lectures from the Tories on the matter. And later, tackled by a member of the audience, he took time to make the case for Labour's controversial policy of VAT on private schools.

"It's a tax break we are removing," he said. "It's not a new tax." And his plea for raising standards in state schools with the money saved won applause.

This was a much stronger performance from Sir Keir than last week. He raised his game: this time the KC and ex-Director of Public Prosecutions was more Rumpole Of The Bailey than Mark Darcy from the Bridget Jones films.

More from Sky News:
Starmer shares 'worry' for family
What the party manifestos are promising

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video playerSir Keir Starmer leaders' debate 4:20

Starmer challenged on 'trust'

For instance, he kept talking when Beth Rigby tried to cut him short. Naughty, but determined. Here, he was much more assertive than last week.

Mr Sunak, on the other hand, was flat compared with his combative performance on ITV. He had to apologise for his D-Day snub not once but twice, begging for forgiveness again.

The D-Day fiasco appears to have damaged the prime minister's confidence - and it won't have been helped by several heckles from a hostile audience. Even on the Tories' supposed strong subject of immigration, he appeared to struggle.

He was thrown by a question from Rigby about why he called the election before the first Rwanda flights are due to take off and, surprisingly for a prime minister with a reputation as a spreadsheet wizard, he didn't know the numbers on questions about net migration.

Towards the end of the audience's harsh questioning of Mr Sunak, a former Tory activist attacked him not only on his D-Day blunder, but also on the Queen being left alone at Prince Philip's funeral during the Boris Johnson partygate scandal.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video playerSunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer are answering questions at Sky’s leaders’ event in Grimsby. 0:46

PM 'deeply sad' over D-Day 'mistake'

The audience reaction to Mr Sunak here confirmed that many voters want to punish the Conservatives for the failings of past prime ministers Mr Johnson and Liz Truss, and not just for the past two years.

Sir Keir now leaves Grimsby for Labour's manifesto launch in the morning in good heart. For Mr Sunak, this was a bad night and unless there's a Tory recovery soon, the mood among the party's candidates and activists will be grim and potentially mutinous.

There are still three weeks until polling day, of course. But with consistently bad opinion polls, already time is running out for Mr Sunak and the Conservatives.

Sir Keir even said at one point: "The first day we get into government." Beth Rigby instantly picked him up on his momentary lapse. He just smiled.

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