11 cringeworthy moments from the Rishi Sunak v Keir Starmer ITV debate

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left), host Julie Etchingham and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during the ITV General Election debate at MediaCity in Salford
-Credit: (Image: PA)


It was the first of the live TV debates between the two men who want to be Prime Minister in just a few weeks: Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer. The general election takes place on July 4. Labour are way ahead in the polls and on course for a huge majority.

ITV had the first scheduled live head-to-head with the two hopefuls. There were audience questions then some quickfire questions from the host Julie Etchingham. They were quizzed on health, education, the cost of living crisis as well as planned tax rises. In the second half of the programme, immigration, Gaza and green policies also came up. Further debates are scheduled before the election on July 4. But there were plenty of cringeworthy moments, as you might have predicted.

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1. We learnt Rishi Sunak doesn't really do natural

First impressions are everything, and the first shot of Rishi Sunak was a very, very awkward smile and a rigid pose.

2. A woman summed up the cost of living crisis perfectly and a Prime Minister with enormous personal wealth said he understood how she felt

The first question was from Paula from Huddersfield. As she detailed the reality lots of people face on a daily basis - working to live, batch cooking to avoid turning the oven on at peak times, burning through her savings with shopping bills having doubled. "I don't think you actually know how life is for people like me," she told the pair. The answer from Rishi Sunak - a man with a huge personal wealth who married a billionaire - told her: "I know how you feel".

3. Neither man could stop shouting over the other

By 9.10pm, Julie Etchingham was already struggling to keep each man from shouting at the other. She repeatedly had to interrupt the two politicians to tell them to stop shouting over each other, and her, saying: "Gentleman please." As the second half started she told both they had to stop shouting over each other so people could hear. She had to keep telling them, at one point imploring again: "Please, we'll keep our voices down".

4. Rishi Sunak couldn't stop talking about furlough

In response to the question about the cost of living crisis, Rishi Sunak kept talking about furlough, a policy he introduced during the pandemic when he was chancellor which ended on September 30, 2021. He later accused Keir Starmer of constantly talking about the past.

5. ITV made up a question from Gareth Southgate

In a rather painful final question, the host asked a question from "Gareth on his way to Germany" - meaning the England football manager Gareth Southgate. Both men are football fans, although Rishi Sunak showed himself up talking about football in Wales. Both men were asked to sum up their leadership style. Rishi Sunak said you need a "clear plan and bold action". Sir Keir Starmer replied that a "game plan and good squad" were needed before adding in "I think England are going to do well. You need a strategy for winning, that's what Gareth has done".

6. They differed on use of private health care

Both of them were asked if they would use private healthcare if they had a family member on a waiting list. Rishi Sunak said: "Yes" while Keir Starmer said: "No". For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

7. We learned both men have parents

If you've ever listened to any interview with either of these two men, you have absolutely heard the jobs their parents did because they mention it every single time. By 9.16pm both had dropped their parents' jobs into their answers. Keir Starmer is the son of a toolmaker and a nurse, and Rishi Sunak is the son of a GP and a pharmacist. Well done, both.

8. Rishi Sunak kept repeating the claim that Labour will put taxes up by £2,000 per family

At the start of the debate, Rishi Sunak kept saying Labour was planning to put up family tax bills by £2,000. You can read if that's true here.

9. But Keir Starmer struggled to counter this line of attack

While RIshi Sunak was not on solid ground by saying a Labour government would put up taxes by £2,000 per family, it was an attack line he got in several times before Sir Keir Starmer actually tried to dispute it.

10. Keir Starmer called Rishi Sunak 'insulting and childish'

In a debate about national security, Rishi Sunak was asked if he thinks Mr Starmer is a national security threat when he said Labour couldn't be trusted with national security. Mr Starmer was clearly angry. He brought up his personal record as a former chief prosecutor working on terror threats, and said the Prime Minister was being "insulting and childish".

11. Mr Starmer called plan for compulsory national service a 'teenage Dad's Army'

Sir Keir Starmer got a (slight) laugh from the audience for the quip.