Voices: Sunak and Starmer were asked ‘are you the best we’ve got?’ The answer...

Keir Starmer appeared on the back foot at times as the last televised showdown between the Labour leader and his Tory rival saw Rishi Sunak secure a narrow victory, thanks to a mid-debate rally.

The tragedy for Sunak, however, is that if the rest of the campaign is anything to go by, it will make no difference at all to the outcome.

Sunak began the night seeming tired and subdued. He repeatedly furrowed his brow as he trotted out the same attack lines on Labour he has used since the start of this campaign – to little or no effect on his party’s opinion poll ratings.

At one point a tetchy Sunak even had a go at what the BBC puts on its website.

This more low-energy Sunak came as a surprise. Before the debate Labour sources said they were prepared for an energetic PM to throw the kitchen sink at his opponent.

In their first debate, the prime minister had come out fighting. He was fluent, articulate and laser-focused on his message – that Labour would cost households more in tax.

No 10 was also the driving force behind holding these debates. At one point they hoped that Labour would agree to six – in what would have been a whopping one a week. In the end, the opposition resisted, agreeing only to two direct Sunak-Starmer confrontations.

With just a week to go until polls open, Labour was also keenly aware the Tory leader is running out of opportunities to woo voters.

But Starmer initially appeared the more relaxed of the two – and well-prepared for Sunak’s attacks.

The first real applause of the night came when Starmer accused Sunak of being “out of touch”, to what seemed like general agreement from those in attendance.

The Tory leader, meanwhile, could be seen visibly reading from his notes at one point, for the first time in these televised meetings.

But then he rallied.

It came as the debate moved to a story, published just hours before kick-off, that Darren Jones, the number two in the Labour Treasury team, had said his party’s decarbonisation plans will cost “hundreds of billions of pounds”.

Sunak visibly perked up, challenging Starmer directly to “tell people what you are going to do”.

He started taking his fight directly to the Labour leader. So much so that Starmer was forced to joke that the PM must have placed a bet on how many times he could interrupt.

Sunak’s rhetoric was also designed to hit home to voters watching at home, as he told them repeatedly not to “surrender” to Labour’s plans, including on taxes, the welfare system and borders.

There was also a difficult moment for Starmer when he tried to attack the Tory leader over Liz Truss. He accused Sunak of supporting her when she became PM. But he was challenged by the BBC’s Mishal Husain that he understands falling in behind a leader – a reference to Jeremy Corbyn.

However, both men would have been forgiven for wincing when Robert, a member of the audience, asked the question of the night: “Are you two really the best we’ve got to be the next prime minister of our great country?”

That easily got the biggest round of applause of the debate.