Key moments from the first Sunak-Starmer debate

The leaders of the two main parties clashed on Tuesday night in their first debate on the General Election campaign.

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer argued over issues including tax, the NHS, immigration and the cost of living in a debate that at times seemed bad-tempered, as the two men were repeatedly told to stop talking over each other.

Below, the PA news agency looks at some of the key moments from Tuesday night’s debate.

General Election campaign 2024
Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer clashed over taxes and NHS wait lists (Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA)

– Starmer brands Sunak the “British expert on tax rises”

The two leaders set the main theme of the debate early on, clashing on tax as each sought to paint the other as offering higher taxes.

Sir Keir said Mr Sunak had raised tax 25 times, saying: “He is the British expert on tax rises. They are at the highest level for 70 years.”

But Mr Sunak hit back, saying the election was “about the future” and insisting he would keep cutting taxes while Labour would raise them.

– Audience laughs and groans at claims over NHS waiting lists

Sir Keir drew a laugh from the audience when he mocked Rishi Sunak over his claim that NHS waiting lists are coming down.

Asked how long it would take to fix the “broken” health service, the Prime Minister pointed to the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledged it would take time to recover “but we are now making progress: waiting lists are coming down”.

There was laughter when the Labour leader countered: “They were 7.2 million, they’re now 7.5 million. He says they are coming down and this is the guy who says he’s good at maths.”

Mr Sunak then blamed industrial action, eliciting groans from the audience of the ITV debate.

“It’s somebody else’s fault,” Sir Keir said.

General Election campaign 2024
An audience member asks a question about the NHS, with answers from Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer drawing both laughs and groans (Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA)

– Sunak and Starmer differ on private healthcare

Both men were asked directly whether they would use private healthcare if a family member was on a long waiting list for NHS care, and both gave clear answers.

Mr Sunak said he would, while Sir Keir said he would not.

The Labour leader added: “I don’t use private health. I use the NHS. That’s where my wife works, in one of the big hospitals; as I said it runs through my DNA.”

Mr Sunak was not given an opportunity to expand on his answer.

– Leaders asked to raise their hands if they would raise tax

Host Julie Etchingham asked both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir to raise their hands if they would raise income tax, national insurance or, with the exception of Labour’s policy on private schools, VAT.

Neither man raised their hand, prompting questions about how they would pay for their policies.

General Election campaign 2024
Julie Etchingham moderated the debate between Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer (Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA)

– Host tells leaders off for speaking over each other

Etchingham had to repeatedly instruct both men to stop talking over each other, and at times had to force them to stop talking when they ran over time.

In the second half of the debate, during a particularly loud exchange, she said: “Please, gentlemen, we will lower our voices.”

– Candidates trade blows over their work before politics

Responding to a question on security, Sir Keir pointed to his experience as director of public prosecutions as evidence he could be trusted to keep Britain safe.

But he also sought to draw a contrast between himself and Mr Sunak, saying the Prime Minister had made millions “betting against the UK during the financial crisis”.

Mr Sunak responded that he would “rather have my job than work for Abu Qatada”, referring to Sir Keir’s work as a human rights lawyer when he represented the controversial preacher in his fight against deportation.

– Audience laughs at national service plan

Asked what they would do for young people, Sir Keir attacked Mr Sunak’s national service proposals as a “teenage dad’s army”.

The Prime Minister sought to defend his policy, saying it would be “transformational for young people in our country, giving them the skills and opportunity they need to succeed in life”.

But the response drew laughter from the studio audience.