Fast, furious, fiery: Sunak and Starmer's no-holds-barred TV debate clash

5 June 2024, 08:47 | Updated: 6 June 2024, 18:51

Fast, furious, fiery: Sunak and Starmer's no-holds-barred TV debate clash
Fast, furious, fiery: Sunak and Starmer's no-holds-barred TV debate clash. Picture: LBC
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

It was fast, it was furious, it was fiery on all sides.

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Last night’s Sunak vs Starmer ITV election debate certainly showed that while Labour may be blazing ahead in the polls, the PM isn’t going down without a fight.

Both leaders took their gloves off last night and pulled no punches.

I watched it all from the heat of the ITV spin room up in Salford when aides of both sides tried to persuade us their man had won.

The polls had it to the wire – with YouGov saying Sunak just about pipped it.

However, a fresh overnight one from Savanta said Starmer had it in the bag on every metric.

You’d expect with Labour and Starmer riding high, for him to come out of the debate swinging and with a clear lead.

Sunak, however, has done a few of these telly clashes before and seemed a lot less nervous than his opponent.

Ben Kentish and Liz Kendall react to the first leader's debate of the election

Starmer started off on the wrong foot by staring into the wrong camera as he addressed the nation in his opening remarks.

And Sunak succeeded, I think, in starting to sow a few seeds of doubt in the minds of voters who may not have made up their minds about him.

Can you really trust him on the economy, on national security?

Read more: Keir Starmer vows to introduce laws for Armed Forces tsar in first King's Speech if Labour wins election

Read more: Rishi Sunak accuses Keir Starmer of planning tax raid in leaders' debate, as Labour chief vows to 'rebuild Britain'

And on taxes, Tory strategists will be delighted at him hammering home his message on tax.

It took Starmer too long to hit back at accusations he’d put them up by £2,000 – he eventually called it garbage.

Yet, Sunak will have irritated the audience with his aggressive tone, speaking over Starmer, and appearing more scrappy and argumentative.

With everything to gain and nothing to lose, he had to throw the kitchen sink at this, and he did.

Starmer was cooler, calmer and more collected, focusing his attack on 14 years of Tory failures.

He accused Sunak of failing to take responsibility and landed blows on Liz Truss trashing the economy.

The audience was sceptical of both sides – with laughs at the PM’s national service plans and several of Starmer’s jokes.

Sunak got a few claps in for saying Starmer didn’t stand for anything.

It all got very personal too – Sunak accused Starmer of representing extremists as a human rights lawyer.

And the Labour boss said he was betting against the country by working as a hedge fund manager during the financial crisis.

Both sides will walk out pleased they landed a few blows – but at the end of the night, there was nothing knock out from either one of them.

I imagine most voters won’t change their ballots on the basis of that clash, but it certainly provided for an entertaining and fascinating debate for us political junkies.

Team Starmer will have some finer tuning of Sir Keir’s tactics ahead of the next head-to-head clash.

But he managed to walk across the stage without dropping that all-important ming vase.