Starmer and Sunak clash in frantic and frustrating election debate

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak faced off in a TV debate
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak clashed in a frantic and ultimately frustrating general election leaders debate in Salford tonight.

The bout was the first time the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition have come face to face since the July 4 election was called. It was hosted by ITV presenter Julie Etchingham.

Going into tonight's contest, the Labour leader was miles ahead in the opinion polls with his rival needing a big win to try and close the gap in his bid to retain the keys to 10 Downing Street.

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What transpired was an unpleasant and unhelpful spectacle, in which both men attempted to speak over each other and were given a ludicrously short time of 45 seconds to discuss and debate crucial issues.

Sunak's approach was aggressive and hectoring. He regularly spoke over both his rival and the host as he attempted to make his points. At times Sir Keir looked frazzled, although he grew into the event and appeared to gain more traction with the audience.

The Prime Minister continually claimed that a Labour government would raise taxes to the tune of £2,000 on working people, claims the Labour leader rubbished as 'garbage' and comments those gathered lost patience with as the night went on.

Sunak pitched himself as a man with 'bold ideas', but saw his signature policy of forcing young people into a year of national insurance slammed as 'desperate' by his opposite number.

Sir Keir was clearly initially rattled by Sunak's abrasive approach, but became more confident and spoke well on the NHS and the cost of living crisis while consistently linking the Prime Minister to the damage done to the country over the past 14 years.

There was an embarassing moment for the PM as Starmer asked how he could claim that NHS waiting lists are coming down, when they have in fact risen on his watch. Sunak's response that they have come down from when they were previously higher drew ironic laughs from the Salford studio.,

Sunak was perhaps the slicker performer overall, but it will be interesting to see if his combative behaviour will play well with voters or not. The manner in which he shouted over the host was not exactly endearing.

But while both men will be attempting to claim victory here, there really was no winner - and the real loser was the voting public. The fast and furious format will have done absolutely nothing to convince people of what each party really intends to do in power and will instead have caused frustration and possible apathy.

This of course is a bigger problem for Rishi Sunak than it is for Sir Keir Starmer, given the state of the opinion polls. It is likely that tonight will have changed very little - aside from possibly raising the blood pressure of those watching at home.

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