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UK PM Sunak and Labour Leader Starmer Clash in First General Election TV Debate

UK PM Sunak insists that Labour would impose higher taxes, a claim Labour leader Starmer dismissed as “absolute garbage.”

In a fiery debut debate for the general election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed over key issues including tax, the NHS, and immigration. The debate, hosted by ITV, saw both leaders engage in heated exchanges, prompting the host, Julie Etchingham, to intervene and urge them to “lower your voices.”

Sunak claimed Labour’s plans would result in a £2,000 tax hike per working family, a figure Starmer vehemently denied, calling it “absolute garbage.” Both leaders also took the opportunity to share personal stories, reflecting on how their childhoods shaped their political views.

Sunak’s performance was particularly scrutinized after a challenging week marked by poor polling for his party and the reemergence of Reform UK leader Nigel Farage. He aggressively challenged Starmer on tax policies, frequently interrupting both his opponent and the moderator.

The debate featured questions from the audience, the first from Paula in Huddersfield, who spoke of her struggle with rising energy and food bills. Sunak insisted his economic plan was working and reiterated his claim that Labour would impose higher taxes. He stated, “Labour will raise your taxes – it’s in their DNA. Your work, your car, your pension – Labour will tax it.”

Sunak’s £2,000 figure is based on Conservative calculations of Labour’s spending commitments, divided by the number of working households. While Sunak suggested these figures were derived from impartial civil servants, they are actually based on assumptions from politically appointed advisers.

A significant policy point arose when Sunak suggested he might pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if the Rwanda immigration policy failed. He emphasized choosing the country’s security over foreign court rulings. Starmer opposed this stance, advocating for adherence to international agreements to maintain the UK’s global respect.

Starmer sought to portray Sunak as out of touch, contrasting his own working-class background with Sunak’s privileged upbringing. He recounted his childhood struggles, such as having the phone cut off due to unpaid bills, suggesting Sunak lacked similar experiences.

A clear division emerged when both were asked if they would use private healthcare for a loved one facing long NHS waiting lists. Sunak answered “yes,” while Starmer firmly said “no,” underscoring his commitment to the NHS.

Both leaders also highlighted their personal connections to the NHS. Sunak spoke of his parents’ roles in healthcare, while Starmer mentioned his wife and mother’s NHS work, and his father’s blue-collar background and his own educational achievements.

Neither leader committed to raising income tax, National Insurance, or VAT (except for Labour’s policy on private schools), leading to questions about funding their policies.

The debate continued to be contentious as they discussed immigration, an issue brought to the forefront by Farage’s return. Sunak challenged Starmer’s plans, often interrupting. Starmer emphasized the need to dismantle criminal gangs exploiting vulnerable migrants, earning audience applause.

On cutting NHS waiting lists, Sunak blamed strikes by health workers, drawing groans but later applause for rejecting tax hikes to fund the NHS. His national service plan for youth also drew mixed reactions; some audience members groaned, while others applauded. Sunak defended the initiative as potentially “transformative,” while Starmer derided it as a “teenage Dad’s Army,” accusing Sunak of lacking substantive ideas.

The debate set a combative tone for the election, with both leaders laying out starkly different visions for the UK’s future.

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