Labour and Tories renew clashes in ill-tempered second election debate

Labour and the Conservatives renewed hostilities in the second TV debate of the campaign, with Angela Rayner and Penny Mordaunt clashing over taxes, defence and the cost of living in a series of bad-tempered exchanges.

In an echo of Tuesday’s head-to-head debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, Mordaunt, the Commons leader, several times raised the much-criticised idea that Labour would increase household taxes by £2,000, bringing derision from Rayner, and corrections from the BBC One host, Mishal Husain.

Related: ‘Well that was dignified’: key takeaways of BBC general election debate

Another recurring theme of the seven-way debate was representatives of the smaller parties clashing with Nigel Farage, as the Reform UK leader made contentious points on areas including immigration, crime and net zero.

The wide-ranging debate, with a series of topics raised by audience questions, was occasionally unruly as the seven participants jostled for attention. But there were regular disputes between Mordaunt and Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, who were placed next to each other in a lineup decided by lots.

An early example saw Mordaunt point her finger at a clearly unimpressed Rayner, as she used a question on the D-day commemorations to accuse Rayner and other senior Labour figures of wanting to “end our nuclear deterrent”, saying Starmer would not be credible as a world leader.

“You can keep pointing at me, but you’re the party that have cut the armed forces, crashed the economy and left us in a real mess,” Rayner replied.

Mordaunt took aim at Labour’s energy plans, saying: “Do you know what the GB stands for? It stands for giant bills – and more bills are coming with net zero.”

Rayner replied that the planned publicly owned clean energy firm “will bring down bills and give people good skilled jobs”, contrasting this with what she called 14 years of failed promises on skills and manufacturing.

The 90-minute event also brought significant airtime for the other four participants: Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader; Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader; the Green co-leader Carla Denyer; and Plaid Cymru’s leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth.

All four won applause from the audience at various points, with Denyer also raising a laugh by saying, after Mordaunt repeatedly talked over Rayner as the pair debated the cost of living: “That was terribly dignified, wasn’t it?”

Farage also sought to present himself as an outsider, with answers that were low on specifics but promised instead what he called “new politics, fresh start – we want a revolt from the British people”.

Mordaunt and Rayner’s most heated disagreement came as the Conservative minister repeatedly set out the claim of a £2,000-a-household tax bill under Labour, to which Rayner replied “That’s a lie”, pointing instead to what she said had been 26 tax rises under the Tories.

Husain twice picked up Mordaunt on her use of the statistic, noting that it had not been endorsed by Treasury civil servants, as claimed on Tuesday by Sunak.

Another heated exchange saw Rayner challenge Mordaunt by saying: “You’ve just said that we need a strong economy. You backed Liz Truss, who crashed our economy.” Mordaunt replied: “Even Liz Truss on her worst day still recognised that we need a nuclear deterrent in this country.”

In a section on immigration, Flynn castigated the two main parties for pledging to slash it, saying migration was “absolutely essential to our public services”, adding: “What we need to do is end the demonisation of migration in Scotland.”

After Farage called for 4 July to be “the immigration election”, ap Iorwerth said Farage “wants to make this an immigration election for his own self-interest”, accusing the Reform leader of fomenting “bigotry”. Farage replied: “Is that the best you can do?”

Flynn won applause for raising Brexit, which he called “an unmitigated disaster for the economy”, calling Farage “the snake oil salesman who delivered Brexit” and asking why the Tories and Labour wanted to ignore the issue.

In a section on the lack of public trust in politics, Cooper said lockdown-breaking parties under Boris Johnson and “the economic illiteracy of the mini-budget” under Truss had played a big part in this.

Another main theme was the smaller parties attacking both Labour and the Conservatives. “We can all see the Tories are toast – thank goodness,” Denyer said in her closing statement. “But we deserve better than a Labour party that is offering more of the same.”