By Thomas Foster
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Sunak and Starmer compete over who’s most right wing in TV debate

The live debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer came the day after Nigel Farage announced he was standing on a viciously right wing programme
Issue 2908
Labour leader Keir Starmer illustrating a story about the Sunak Starmer TV debate

Labour leader Keir Starmer only made right wing promises in the TV debate with Sunak (Picture: flickr/Keir Starmer)

The first TV leaders’ debate of the general election on Tuesday was a debate in name only. But it’s hard to have one when the two sides agree on so much. 

Starmer’s opening pitch was, “I’ve changed the Labour Party and put it back in the service of working people.” 

That’s one way of describing the recent purge of the left and abandoning the mildest of social democratic policies. 

An audience member asked, “The NHS is broken. How long will it take to fix it?” Starmer responded, “My mum was a nurse, my sister was a nurse, the NHS runs through my DNA. It has been broken. It’s unforgivable what’s happened to the NHS.” 

It turns out Sunak was also “brought up in the NHS, surrounded by people who dedicated their lives to it”. “My dad was a GP and my mum was a pharmacist,” he opportunistically said. 

“What I want you to know is that the NHS is safe in my hands.”

What about the spiralling NHS crisis with staff shortages and the long queues for treatment? Apparently that’s the fault of junior doctors, who are striking to defend it, not the Tories who’ve pushed through 14 years of cuts and privatisation. 

“The NHS was impacted by industrial action,” said Sunak—only to be greeted by groans from the audience. 

But Starmer didn’t come off much better on the junior doctors’ strikes. When Sunak pressed him, Starmer stumbled and avoided the question, only vaguely promising, “We need to get into the negotiation room and have a grown up approach.”

It’s waffle and lies. If there is money for Starmer to promise to renew Britain’s multibillion pound nuclear arsenal, then there’s money for junior doctors.

The debate then entered an alternative universe. The presenter asked whether there was a “conspiracy of silence” about the cuts faced by unprotected budgets and asked for a brief one sentence answer.

Sunak’s response was, “We are going to continue investing record sums in public services.” Whereas Starmer’s was, “We aren’t going to go back to austerity.”

Sunak’s statement comes after some of the most savage cuts to public services Britain has ever seen.

Starmer’s response comes after Labour has pledged “fiscal responsibility” and said it’s going to face “tough choices”—in other words, no boost to public services. 

One of the most nauseating parts was when Sunak and Starmer competed over who could be most racist towards refugees. 

Starmer attacked Sunak for not being tough enough on refugees. He said, “Migration is at record highs. It’s never been that high. Who’s in charge? 

“Sunak is the most liberal prime minister we’ve ever had on immigration. In this year alone, 10,000 people have crossed in boats.” 

Starmer—an expert in breaking pledges—then said Sunak’s promises “aren’t worth the paper they are written on”. 

An audience member asked, “What should happen next to stop these awful scenes in Gaza?”

The ITV presenter then framed the question, “That question there is specifically about the Hamas terrorist atrocities of 7 October and then what unfolded after, the scenes of which we see on our TVs every evening.”

This set up Starmer for his own shameful and dishonest intervention. “The situation is catastrophic,” he wrung his hands. 

That may have something to do with Israel cutting off power, water and supplies to Gaza—which Starmer defended. 

“I’m pleased that Keir Starmer supported alongside me Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Sunak. 

He used the question as a cynical opportunity to drum up support for more wars. “What Hamas is doing is indicative of the dangers we face,” he claimed. 

“That’s why I made the bold decision to increase investment in defence.” Labour, too, has pledged to increase defence spending. 

There was no mention of stagnating wages and the discussions around housing, education and social care seemed like nothing more than a box-ticking exercise.

The debate showcased the rotten policies of the Tory party—and how Labour doesn’t offer a substantial break with them. 

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