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Nothing has changed

5 June 2024
| by Field Team

If Monday was Rishi Sunak’s darkest hour, then Tuesday didn’t get much brighter for the Tories. Nigel Farage dominated coverage all day ahead of the first TV debate.

For the Prime Minister, ITV’s studio was a lion’s den in which there was everything to gain and nothing to lose. For Starmer, there was very little to gain and a lot that could go wrong in the cut and thrust of a live television debate.

Both leaders aimed for a knockout blow but ended up swinging wildly. Rishi Sunak positioned himself as the only leader with a concrete plan, landing some early jabs at Keir Starmer by claiming Labour's policies would cost people £2,000 in extra tax. Starmer failed to rebut the claim for more than half an hour – albeit cut off on occasion by host Julie Etchingham. He likely didn’t do enough to stop the claim lodging in some viewers’ minds, a big win for Sunak. The PM won’t be too unhappy to see the Treasury this morning dispute civil servants were the source for the whole number as the PM claimed as it gives another news cycle to his claims. Labour’s Jon Ashworth has been reduced to claiming it’s all a “barefaced lie”.

It was far from all good news for the Premier: the audience laughed out loud at him over claims NHS waiting lists “have come down from when they were higher” and blaming striking doctors for the surge. His babbling defence came after Starmer got him on the ropes pointing out waiting lists were higher now (at 7.5 million) than when he pledged to cut them. Voters are already furious at the Conservatives and ridicule does not suggest he’s anywhere close to getting a hearing.

Starmer also landed some Labour approved lines about Rishi’s previous life in the city and unsurprisingly hammered over and over on how Liz Truss’s record proved the Conservatives couldn’t be trusted.

The format helped nobody: In only an hour, the pair had to solve climate change, stop the boats and fix NHS waiting times, all while apparently locked inside a studio that looked a bit like the computer code from the Matrix.

The bottom line was a score draw. According to a YouGov poll carried out immediately after the debate, Rishi Sunak was declared the winner by 51 to Keir’s 49%. This morning, Survation gave it to Starmer 44% to 39%. Fewer than five million people were watching live at all meaning it’s likely the debate won’t have changed anyone’s mind. If you’re the Labour leader defending a more than 20-point lead in the polls, that likely feels like a good night’s work.

(Photo provided by Getty Images)

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