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British parliamentary election: Heated TV duel: Outsider Sunak wins by a point

British parliamentary election: Heated TV duel: Outsider Sunak wins by a point

The polls see the Prime Minister on course for a historic defeat in the parliamentary elections. Rishi Sunak is appearing all the more aggressive. But is that enough to bring about a turnaround?

Rishi Sunak ruthlessly hammered his message into the audience like a steam hammer. A dozen times and detached from the actual issue, the British Prime Minister emphasized in the first TV debate with his challenger Keir Starmer that his rival wanted to increase the tax burden by 2,000 pounds per household. Starmer, whose Labour Party is clearly leading in polls ahead of the general election on July 4, seemed surprised and left the accusation hanging unchallenged for a very long time.

The fact that Sunak’s statement had little to do with reality, as fact checks by the BBC and the PA news agency show, was obviously of no concern to him. First impressions count, and this point went to the incumbent, who, with his back against the wall, was much more aggressive and combative than the opposition leader. It got loud, it got chaotic, it got personal. At times, it was impossible to understand a word. The conservative head of government in particular interrupted his social democratic rival several times on Tuesday evening. ITV presenter Julie Etchingham had a hard time with the two fighting cocks.

Did Sunak lie?

Sunak’s strategy, at first glance, paid off. In a snap poll by the Yougov polling institute, he landed a razor-thin victory: 51 percent saw the Prime Minister as the winner, 49 percent the opposition leader. That should at least be a little balm for the conservative soul, after everything recently pointed to a historic defeat for the Tory party.

However, his claims could ultimately come back to haunt Sunak. Labour leader Jonathan Ashworth accused Sunak of lying. And the Treasury’s top official rejected Sunak’s statement that the figure of £2,000 (€2,348) over four years had been calculated by independent government officials. Team Sunak was initially very pleased with how the tax issue was handled, commented Guardian reporter Pippa Crerar. “But this morning it has become a question of honesty. Problematic.”

The mood in the ITV studio in Salford near Manchester seemed tense. Sunak in particular repeatedly talked over his challenger, while Starmer rolled his eyes and raised his arms in irritation. The impression: The former investment banker Sunak and the former head of the law enforcement agency do not like each other personally either.

The incumbent is under enormous pressure

It almost seemed as if the roles had been reversed. The incumbent approached the opposition leader as if he were the Prime Minister. “Apart from raising taxes and stealing your pensions, nobody knows what Labour would actually do,” Sunak said in his message to the audience. Starmer was demanding a blank cheque and was concealing the true costs of his policies. Sunak asked the Labour leader several times about specific plans, but the 61-year-old remained vague.

Starmer showed more empathy and received more applause. Starmer said he knew from his own experience what it was like when bills could not be paid and the phone was switched off. The fact that his father was a toolmaker was new to many viewers and was well received.

No unfulfillable promises, no mistakes and, above all, a reference to the Tory government with changing prime ministers and numerous scandals – the Labour strategy is simple. “Either we continue with the chaos and division that we have experienced over the past 14 years, or we turn a new page and make a fresh start with Labour,” said Starmer. Re-electing the Conservatives means giving the matches back to the arsonists.

Given Labour’s huge lead in the polls, the Prime Minister, who is under pressure from the right-wing populist Reform UK party led by Brexit advocate Nigel Farage, would have needed a resounding victory, commented Sky News correspondent Beth Rigby on X. Further surveys also showed that the Yougov survey was more of an exception. The pollsters at JL Partners and Savanta saw Starmer clearly in the lead in some cases.

Many people in Britain apparently just want to get rid of the Tories after 14 years in government. Scarlett Maguire of JL Partners compared Sunak – motto: “I have a clear plan that works” – to an ex-boyfriend in the Sun newspaper’s analysis program. “People are fed up with him. They don’t want to hear his brilliant plan about why it’s actually a really great idea to get back together.”

Source: Stern

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