Sunak ‘beats’ Starmer in ITV election debate by narrowest margin, snap poll claims

The prime minister and Labour leader clashed on the NHS, tax rises and immigration in testy exchanges.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer before the start of the ITV Election debate.
Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer clashed over the NHS, immigration and taxes during the debate. (ITV News)

Rishi Sunak beat Keir Starmer by the narrowest of margins in a snap poll following a testy, first live TV debate in which the two leaders repeatedly talked over each other and argued about tax rises, the NHS and immigration.

According to an initial YouGov poll posted moments after the debate on ITV had finished, 51% of viewers said Sunak had performed better with 49% saying Starmer.

In the hour-long debate, Sunak said a Labour government under Starmer would raise taxes by £2,000, without providing any evidence to support his claim. Starmer branded his comments "absolute garbage", saying that the costings were based on Labour policies that his party had not committed to.

The pair also argued about the junior doctor strikes that have hit the NHS in recent months and record waiting lists affecting patients. Sunak achieved unwanted audience laughter when he said waits were "coming down from when they were higher".

Who do you think won the debate? Have your say and then read all the key points and reaction from the debate below.

  • Featured

    Who won the debate - Starmer or Sunak? Have your say

  • Reality check: how do the leaders’ claims in TV debate stack up?

    Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have faced off for an hour of intense and at times testy debate on ITV1. Here are some of the claims made – and whether they stack up.

    Read the full story from The Guardian.

  • In testy debate, Britain's Sunak, Starmer go head to head on the economy

    Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, host Julie Etchingham and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer pose together as ITV hosts the first head-to-head debate of the General Election, in Manchester, Britain, June 4, 2024 in this handout image. Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Handout via REUTERS
    (L-R) Rishi Sunak, host Julie Etchingham, and Keir Starmer pose together as ITV hosts the first head-to-head debate of the general election. (Reuters)

    Rishi Sunak and Labour's Keir Starmer went head-to-head on Tuesday over how to boost the country's economy, with the prime minister accusing the opposition party of wanting to increase taxes if it wins power at a July 4 election.

    Both leaders stuck very much to their campaign lines in their first debate just weeks before voters cast their ballots in the general election — Sunak saying only he had a plan to spur Britain's paltry economic growth and Starmer portraying the Conservatives as presiding over 14 years of economic chaos.

    Read the full story from Reuters.

  • Key moments from the first Sunak-Starmer debate

    The leaders of the two main parties clashed on Tuesday night in their first debate on the General Election campaign.

    Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer argued over issues including tax, the NHS, immigration and the cost of living in a debate that at times seemed bad-tempered, as the two men were repeatedly told to stop talking over each other.

    Read the full story from PA.

  • Everything you need to know from first TV election clash between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer

    Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak debate, as ITV hosts the first head-to-head debate of the General Election, in Manchester, Britain, June 4, 2024 in this handout image. Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Handout via REUTERS    THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. NO NEW USES AFTER JULY 4, 2024.
    Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak debated about the economy and the NHS. (Reuters)

    Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer traded blows on the economy and the NHS as they faced off in the first TV debate of the 2024 election campaign. In his opening pitch to voters on ITV, the Prime Minister sought to draw dividing lines with Labour as he claimed the party would “raid” pension pots and hike taxes.

    Read the full story from MyLondon.

  • What do the pundits say?

  • Review: Rishi Sunak has night to forget in ITV debate as Keir Starmer puts boot into PM

    Rishi Sunak was good at making money in a previous life, but the TV debate confirmed he is bad at politics, writes Paul Hutcheon for the Daily Record.

    The ITV face off with Keir Starmer was his opportunity to turn around a disastrous campaign that was already hurtling towards oblivion.

    Read more from the Daily Record.

  • Who won the debate?

    In a poll asking which leader performed better in tonight's debate, 51% said Sunak performed best overall.

  • Starmer and Sunak make closing statements

    Starmer and Sunak both had the opportunity to make closing statements as the debate reached its conclusion.

    Sunak said Starmer was asking the country to hand him a blank cheque, stating: "You don’t know what you’d get and neither does he."

    Starmer said he wouldn't pretend there was a magic wand that would fix things "overnight". "I don’t offer you the gimmicks or unfunded promises that Rishi Sunak does," he said.

  • Pair asked about England in the Euros

    In a switch from the heavier tone of the evening, Starmer and Sunak were asked about the England football team - and whether they supported a strategy of playing it safe or risking everything for glory.

    Sunak discussed whether he or Gareth Southgate “had the worst job in Britain” when he met with the England football manager.

    The prime minister said: “Not to give advice to Gareth Southgate who, when I met him, we did discuss who had the worst job in Britain in terms of other people giving you their opinions, but as I say you need to have a clear plan and you need to take bold action, because you don’t do anything without those things.”

    Also asked what advice he would give Southgate on leadership prior to the European Championship, Starmer said: “Game plan, good squad – and he’s got both of those – I really think we’re going to do really well this year, we’ve got a fantastic team.”

    He added: “He’s very, very good at this, and he’s built a squad, just like I’ve got a brilliant shadow cabinet.”

  • What do the polls say about the popularity of national service?

    People were asked whether they supported or opposed mandatory national service. (YouGov)
    People were asked whether they supported or opposed mandatory national service. (YouGov)
  • Audience member asks when young people would become a priority

    Audience member Miles from Ilford said he did his A-levels and started his degree under Covid restrictions and asked the leaders when young people would "become your priority".

    Starmer said he wasn't suggesting a "teenage Dad's Army" like Sunak, who has proposed national service.

    Sunak said Starmer was only "sneering" at national service because he didn't have any bold ideas of his own.

    "I think it’s going to be transformational for our country," Sunak said, prompting the audience to laugh.

  • Sunak insists again that Starmer intends to put up taxes

    Sunak has repeated numerous times during the debate that Starmer intends to put up taxes and will cost people money with environmental plans.

  • Starmer says UK would be 'pariah' if it left international conventions

    Rishi Sunak was asked whether the Tory manifesto would commit to leaving the European Convention on Human Rights if the Rwanda plan was blocked in the courts.

    The prime minister told the ITV debate: “I’m crystal clear, I believe all our plans are compliant with our international obligations, but if I am forced to choose between securing our borders and our country’s security, or a foreign court, I’m going to choose our country’s security every single time.”

    Starmer said the UK risked becoming a “pariah” state if it left international conventions.

    “We will not pull out of international agreements and international law which is respected the world over,” he said.

    “Because I want the UK to be a respected player on the global stage, not a pariah who doesn’t agree with international law.”

  • Sunak and Starmer would both work with convicted criminal Donald Trump

    Newark, United States Of America. 01st June, 2024. Former President of the United States of America Donald Trump is seen in attendance during the UFC 302 event at the Prudential Center on June 1, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey. Credit: Brazil Photo Press/Alamy Live News
    Former US president Donald Trump is now a convicted criminal. (Alamy)

    Sunak and Starmer were asked a "quickfire" question on whether they would work with convicted criminal Donald Trump if he is elected US president.

    If he's elected president of the US then we will deal with him - it's up to the people of the US," Starmer said

    Sunak said: "Yes because having a strong relationship with our closest partner and ally is critical for keeping everyone in our country safe."

  • What are viewers posting?

    Three quarters of the way through the debate and much of the online chat is revolving around the leaders talking over one another, and talking around topics rather than answering questions directly.

  • Starmer says he would consider processing asylum claims in a third country

    Asked whether he would consider processing asylum claims in a third country, Starmer says: "Yes".

  • Both leaders confirm they won't raise taxes

    Both leaders confirmed they did not intend to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT.

    But Rishi Sunak directly accused Sir Keir Starmer of planning a “retirement tax” because he was not matching the Tory “triple lock-plus” commitment to increase the personal allowance for pensioners.

    “If Labour are elected, pensioners will pay tax,” the Prime Minister said. “I do not think that is right.”

    He told Starmer: “You should explain to everyone why you think pensioners will be paying a retirement tax under your government.”

    Sunak added: “Why do you want to put up their taxes?”

    Starmer shot back by comparing Sunak’s spending commitments to the unfunded tax cuts announced by his predecessor Liz Truss.

    “What the prime minister has done so far for the two weeks of this campaign is to take desperate gimmicks and put them on the table,” he said.

    Highlighting Tory aspirations to eliminate national insurance and inheritance tax – which have not been announced as formal policies – Starmer said: “The big problem with Liz Truss is that she made unfunded tax cuts. The prime minister is doing the same thing.”

  • Flights will go in July, but only if I am your prime minister, Sunak says

    The leaders are talking about immigration - with Sunak pledging that Rwanda flights will be departing the UK in July "but only if I am your prime minister".

    For his part, Sunak has highlighted the need to smash the "vile gangs" that traffic people to the UK rather than come up with a "gimmick" like the Rwanda scheme.

    Starmer accused Sunak of being “the most liberal prime minister we’ve ever had on immigration”.

    Asked by an audience member why either leader should be trusted to do anything about illegal immigration, Sunak said deportation flights will take off to Rwanda “in July, but only if I’m your Prime Minister”.

    “Stick to our plan and illegal migrants will be on those planes – with Labour they will be out on our streets.”

    Starmer said: “The levels of migration are at record highs – 685,000. It’s never been that high, save in the last year or two.

    “The Prime Minister says it’s too high. Who’s in charge? He’s in charge. He’s the most liberal prime minister we’ve ever had on immigration.”

    The Labour leader also said Mr Sunak had “completely failed” to meet his pledge to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

  • First half of debate criticised by viewers over 'rude', 'embarassing' interruptions

    Sunak and Starmer repeatedly talked over each other, leaving viewers unimpressed:

  • Martin Lewis fact checks Sunak's tax comments

  • Starmer says Sunak's campaign riddled with 'desperate gimmicks'

    As Sunak says he has committed to triple-lock plus and accuses Starmer of introducing a retirement tax, Starmer says the prime minister has introduced a series of "ridiculous gimmicks' on the campaign trail.

  • Labour and Conservatives ‘misleading’ voters on tax and spending plans, top economist warns

    Labour and the Conservatives have been accused of misleading voters over their tax and spending plans, and of ignoring a potential £20bn hole in the public finances after the election.

    Amid a war of words over the question of whether Sir Keir Starmer or Rishi Sunak would rule out a VAT hike, a top economist told The Independent that both parties are being dishonest with voters about the country’s finances.

    Read the full story from The Independent.

  • FullFact not sure how Labour game to figure on 'raising tax 26 times'

    Full Fact said it was "not sure" how Labour arrived at its figures on tax rises.

  • Leaders asked if they would use private health care if a loved one was on a waiting list?

    Starmer and Sunak were asked if they would use private healthcare if their loved one was on a waiting list for treatment. Starmer says he would not, Sunak says he would.

    Sunak was applauded when he said he would not give junior doctors a 35% pay rise.

    A heated exchange followed between the leaders when the prime minister challenged Keir Starmer to say how he would resolve the long-running dispute.

    Starmer said: “There’s only two ways forward: one is a continuing strike, which is what we’ve had for a very, very long time – we’re now four-and-a-half weeks from election. He’s going to kick it into the long grass.

    “Or you get grown up, you go in the room and you resolve this. That does not mean you agree with the 35%, we can’t afford that.”

  • Will energy bills go up in the autumn?

  • Sunak gets a laugh - but it's over his comments on NHS waiting lists

    While some leaders aim for laughs - they don't tend to want them for serious comments on NHS waiting lists. Sunak claims waiting lists are falling, prompting the audience to laugh.

    Asked how long it would take to fix the “broken” health service, the Prime Minister pointed to the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledged it would take time to recover “but we are now making progress: waiting lists are coming down”.

    There was laughter when the Labour leader countered: “They were 7.2 million, they’re now 7.5 million. He says they are coming down and this is the guy who says he’s good at maths.”

    Sunak then blamed industrial action, eliciting groans from the audience of the ITV debate.

    “It’s somebody else’s fault,” Sir Keir said.

  • Sunak and Starmer insist on saying what their parents did for work

    Just 15 minutes into the debate, and both leaders have highlighted the jobs their parents did. Keir Starmer has said, once again, that his father was a toolmaker, Sunak has let the audience know that his mother was a pharmacist and father was a GP.

    Twitter reaction: 1/5 - unimpressed.

  • Sunak's £2000 tax claim questioned

    Sunak has repeatedly claimed that Labour would raise taxes by £2000 under Keir Starmer, making people worse off.

    But is it true?

    Sunak also Labour would “raid” people’s pension pots.

    In his opening statement at the ITV debate he said: “Uncertainty times call for a clear plan and bold action.

    “So I’ll keep this simple: In five weeks, either Kier Starmer or I will be prime minister.

    “Beyond raising your taxes and raiding your pensions, no one knows what Labour would actually do.

    “But you know what I would do? I’ll cut your taxes, protect your pension and reduce immigration.

    “I have a clear plan for a more secure future for you and your family.”

  • Starmer and Sunak's first clash over cost of living

    The pair have been asked a question by Paula from Huddersfield, who said her food bill has nearly doubled and her savings are gone.

    "I’m genuinely worried about my future," she said.

    While both are arguing about who Paula would be worse under (Starmer suggesting her problems have been caused by the current government, Sunak that her problems would be worse under Labour - who he claims will hike taxes).

    Their answers have seen Sunak come in for a battering on social media:

  • Starmer and Sunak deliver opening statements

    The leaders have kicked off with statements in the ITV debate. (ITV)
    The leaders have kicked off with statements in the ITV debate. (ITV)

    Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have delivered their opening debate statements, with Starmer promising change, and Sunak pledging he has a clear plan for the future.

  • As the debate kicks off, what are the parties saying?

    As the debate kicks off, what are the parties saying?

  • "Funny' Sunak has 'such energy', says health secretary Victoria Atkins

  • ITV faces criticism for only including two party leaders

    ITV has been criticised for only including Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak in tonight's televised debate at 9pm.

    Simon Lucas, founder of executive search firm Society Search shared results of a recent YouGov poll which showed a number of people believed that the Lib Dem's Ed Davey, Reform UK's Richard Tice or the SNP's John Swinney should be included.

    He argued that ITV had narrowed its selection "against the wishes of the British people".

    Responding to his post on X, ITV said: "Hi Simon, be sure to stay on ITV tonight for 'The ITV Election Interviews' which is on immediately after The Debate.

    "Leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Reform UK and the Greens take part in this live programme featuring extended interviews."

  • Labour and Tory leaders arrive for ITV debate

  • Concerns over Green Party pledge to reduce caesarean sections

    The Green Party says it will carry out a full review of its health policy following concerns over its pledge to reduce the number of medical interventions in childbirth.

    The party’s health policy document said there has been a rise in caesarean sections, which it described as “expensive and, when not medically required, risky”. It also proposed a change to NHS culture to ensure “birth is treated as a normal and non-medical event”.

    The document on the party’s website – which was last updated in April 2024 – has since been taken down, but it previously said: “The incidence of medical intervention in childbirth has escalated in recent years, particularly the rate of caesarean sections, which are expensive and, when not medically required, risky.

    “We will work to reduce the number of interventions in childbirth, and change the culture of the NHS so that birth is treated as a normal and non-medical event, in which mothers are empowered and able to be in control.”

    Green Party health spokesperson Dr Pallavi Devulapalli tweeted: “There is no intention to stop or reduce medical care provision during pregnancy and childbirth... The policy is currently in draft form, we will re-examine this statement to ensure it doesn’t convey any unintended messages.”

    A party spokesperson said there would be a “full review” of the party’s health policy which is “out of date”.

  • New poll predicts 'record breaking' Labour majority

    Another poll has predicted a crushing defeat for the Tories and a "record breaking" victory for the Labour Party.

    New figures released this evening, put together by research company Survation, predict a total of 487 seats for Labour.

    This would be even more than the 419 won in Tony Blair's 1997 landslide, and, with a majority of 324 seats, it would be the largest ever majority in modern British politics.

    It's an even higher prediction than a recent poll by YouGov, which suggests Labour could win 422 seats, which would give the party a majority of 194.

    Survation, which carried out the research on behalf of Best for Britain, used MRP — or Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification technique.

    In this case, the results were based on based on online and telephone collected interviews of 30,044 people

    The method is defined by the British Polling Council as a “way of using large national samples to estimate public opinion at a local level”.

  • Labour and Tories ‘avoiding reality’ of sharp spending cuts, says think tank

    Both the Conservative Party and Labour are “avoiding the reality” that their plans lock them into “sharp” spending cuts after the election, a leading economic think tank has warned.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said neither of the main parties appears “serious about the underlying principle of getting debt falling”.

    In its latest assessment, the IFS said forecasts suggest whoever is the chancellor in the autumn will be “fortunate” to meet the fiscal rule of getting debt on a downward path between 2028/29 and 2029/30, which both Labour and the Conservatives have committed to.

    The think tank added that, while there are “good reasons” to want debt falling over the medium term, it described the current “fiscal mandate” as “arbitrary and gameable”. This makes it a “poor guide to the health of the public finances”, the IFS said.

  • 'Sunak’s worst nightmare,' as poll of polls shows Labour lead stuck at 21 points and now Farage storms in

    It is often said in life that “no news is good news”.

    For the Conservatives in this general election campaign the opposite is true when it comes to the opinion polls.

    Labour’s average poll lead since the election was called is 21 points. Labour’s average lead in May before the election was called was 21 points. In April it was 21 points too. You get the idea. There is no obvious sense of movement.

    Read the full story in the Evening Standard.

  • Campaign catchup: Debate looming, Farage soaking, Whitby Woman rebelling

    FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits Leander Club, in Henley-on-Thames, Britain, June 3, 2024. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    Will Rishi Sunak impress tonight? (Reuters)

    If you’ve felt bereft of opportunities to watch Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer bothering members of the public over the last few days, that’s probably because they’ve been spending most of their time squirrelled away in preparation for tonight’s debate on ITV, writes Archie Bland for The Guardian.

    This is already being billed as Sunak’s last chance to save his campaign – which is both depressing for the Conservatives, and touchingly optimistic: as the joke goes, so you’re telling me there’s a chance?!

    Read the full story from The Guardian.

  • What are tonight's key attack lines likely to be?

  • OPINION - So who wore it best? Keir Starmer vs Rishi Sunak general election style race: our verdict

    In this day and age, campaign optics are as critical as any professed policy. Just look at Nigel Farage’s confrontational Union Jack socks. For their July 4 reckoning, Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have both leant into a strong and stable polish, writes Victoria Moss for the Evening Standard.

    They are impeccably clean shaven at all times, hair as solid and compact as a Lego figurine, attempting to signal that there is no chaos here, not a follicle is out of place, you can trust us (compare and contrast with the chaos of Boris Johnson’s comically unwieldy blonde thatch and Jeremy Corbyn’s scruffy beard).

    Read the full story from the Evening Standard.

  • Five things to watch for in tonight’s Sunak-Starmer TV debate

    Tonight Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer will face off in their first television debate of the general election campaign.

    With the Conservatives still around 20 points behind in the polls, Mr Sunak will see the TV debates as an opportunity to put himself in front of voters and try and change minds before the vote on July 4.

    Read the full story from The Telegraph.

  • General election campaign ignoring looming £12bn public finances hole

    Five stacks of newly minted one pound coins arranged in increasing height on British pound notes.
    The next government could have a large financial black hole. (Getty)

    With less than a month to go before the UK general elections, parties have been busy making pledges and fighting over how they will fund it. However, a think tank has warned that rows over small pledges risk missing wider uncertainties that could leave the next government confronting a £12bn black hole in the public finances.

    Some additional costs include compensation for the victims of infected blood products, which totals £10bn over the next five years.

    Read the full story from Yahoo Finance.

  • Cleverly asked about replacing Sunak if Tories suffer defeat

    James Cleverly has dismissed suggestions he could stand as Conservative leader if the party suffers the defeats predicted in a major poll.

    Labour looks set to win as many as 422 seats, with the Tories reduced to just 140, according to YouGov analysis published on Monday, in a poll which would also see many current Cabinet members lose their seats.

    Asked about whether he could be urged to stand for Tory leader in the aftermath of the election if the estimates prove true, Cleverly said: “I have always said this, and this is boring and repetitive, but nevertheless it is the case that my focus is and will continue to be, and always has been, on returning a Conservative government with Rishi Sunak at the helm.

    “I would say that those people whether they are in the media, completely legitimately, or in the party who are planning for what happens after the general election should focus on influencing the outcome of the general election.”

  • Sunak spotted after scoping out ITV debate set

    The prime minister left the studios earlier today.

  • On the campaign trail: Nigel Farage has pint of milkshake thrown in his face, in pictures

    As the Labour and Conservative leaders prepare for a showdown later today, Reform leader Nigel Farage had a milkshake thrown in his face.

    Read the full story from Yahoo News.

  • What could possibly go wrong? A history of TV debates as Sunak and Starmer prepare to go head to head

    The most famous TV election debate image is a sweaty and unshaven Richard Nixon up against the telegenic JFK in the US in 1960.

    Here in the UK, the most decisive debate game-changer was Gordon Brown and David Cameron conceding "I agree with Nick" in 2010.

    That sparked the "Cleggmania" which propelled Nick Clegg to the post of deputy prime minister in Mr Cameron's coalition government.

    Mr Nixon's disaster under the harsh TV lights came in the first TV debate held in a US presidential election, one of four during the 1960 campaign.

    Read the full story from Sky News.

  • What do the latest opinion polls says as Starmer and Sunak head into debate?

    Ahead of Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer's first head-to-head election debate this evening, here's what the last opinion polls from PA say.

    Opinion poll tracker. (PA)
    Opinion poll tracker. (PA)
  • As Sunak and Starmer prepare for their first TV debate, here's what they need to pull off

    File photo dated 22/05/24 of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issuing a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, after calling a General Election for July 4. Issue date: Tuesday June 4, 2024.
    Prime minister Rishi Sunak pictured as he announced the date of the election. (Alamy)

    Conservative leader Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer will tonight go head-to-head in the first TV debate during this year's general election campaign.

    On Sky News's Electoral Dysfunction podcast, party insiders give their views on what each leader needs to pull off under the bright lights of the studio.

    Speaking to political editor Beth Rigby, Labour peer Ayesha Hazarika said Rishi Sunak has just "two jobs" to achieve tonight.

    Read the full story from Sky News.