Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash in UK election debate

The two contenders to become Britain's next prime minister clashed furiously over taxes, immigration and health policy Tuesday in a televised debate that at times descended into bad-tempered exchanges as the political rivals argued with each other.

The clash came exactly a month before the crucial general election that will determine whether the opposition Labor Party can capitalize on its strong lead in opinion polls and end 14 turbulent years of Conservative-led government during which the party has had five different prime ministers.

Soon after the debate began, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that his opponent, Labor leader Keir Starmer, would raise taxes on British citizens by 2,000 pounds, about $2,550, a year if he won the election, repeating the same statement numerous times. “Absolute rubbish,” Starmer finally responded.

The Labor Party said the figure was based on incorrect assumptions and Jonathan Ashworth, a senior party MP, said in an interview with Sky News after the debate that Sunak was lying. But Starmer's failure to clearly reject the claim at the start of the broadcast set the tone for what followed: a solid but defensive performance from the leader of the opposition against an energetic and sometimes ruthless opponent.

A quick opinion poll among viewers declared Mr Sunak a narrow winner, although Mr Starmer was seen as nicer and more trustworthy. While the debate is unlikely to swing a significant number of votes, Sunak's performance may have calmed some nerves within his anxious party.

With the Conservatives trailing in opinion polls for more than 18 months, the broadcast was a chance for Sunak to revive his stalling campaign. After an early gaffe, the prime minister's prospects apparently worsened on Monday when Nigel Farage, a right-wing rebel, made a surprise decision to stand for election.

For Starmer, the main aim was to avoid losing momentum ahead of the July 4 general election, which opinion polls suggest he is on track to win, perhaps comfortably.

There was no decisive blow in Tuesday's hour-long debate, which was filmed before a studio audience in Salford, near Manchester, and was the first of two scheduled televised meetings between Sunak and Starmer.

Animated but at times authoritarian, Sunak was more aggressive in making his point, accusing the Labor Party of having no plan for government and often speaking over Starmer, despite calls for calm from Julie Etchingham, the moderator.

But Sunak has struggled to defend the Conservative Party's 14 years of rule, and Starmer ridiculed his failure to cut waiting lists for more than seven million procedures in the health system as he promised.

“There were 7.2 million, now they are 7.5 million. He says they're coming down – and this is the guy who says he's good at maths,” Starmer said of the prime minister.

“They are coming down from where they were when they were higher,” Sunak responded, prompting laughter from the audience.

In a routine exchange of claims and counter-claims, Starmer said the government had “lost control” of the economy, adding that it was ordinary people “who were paying the price”. Sunak argued his plans were helping to boost economic growth and said progress would be put at risk by Labour.

Televised general election debates are a relatively recent phenomenon in Britain, the first of which took place in 2010. This time the onus was on Sunak to make an impact, in a broadcast that has been described as “one of last chance the prime minister must change the political fortunes of his party”, by Lee Cain, who worked in Downing Street for Boris Johnson, one of Sunak's predecessors.

Last Tuesday, Farage, who has become the leader of Reform UK, a small far-right party campaigning to cut immigration, addressed a crowd of several hundred people in Clacton-on-Sea, which is part of the area in which he intends to participate in the general elections.

Capitalizing on his reputation as a political disruptor, Farage appealed to voters to send him to Parliament “for being a bloody nuisance”. Not all bystanders, however, were friendly, and one protester threw what appeared to be a large milkshake at him. A woman was later arrested.

A leading supporter of Brexit, Farage has attempted and failed seven times to become a member of the British Parliament. But analysts believe that this time he has a good chance in Clacton, an area that voted strongly for Britain to leave the European Union, and which was once represented by an MP from the pro-UK Independence Party. -Farage's Brexit. Guide.

At a national level, Reform UK is unlikely to win more than a handful of seats in the British electoral system, which favors the two largest parties and makes it very difficult for small parties to succeed.

But Farage's party tends to take more votes from the Conservatives than from Labor and could take away thousands of votes that Sunak's party won in the 2019 general election, potentially costing it dozens of seats.

Sunak made a fresh attempt to appeal to potential reformist voters on Tuesday, pledging to limit immigration by placing an annual cap on entries.

Under his plans, a committee of experts would recommend a maximum number of immigrants admitted each year, which would then be voted on by Parliament.

Labor rejected the promise as meaningless, pointing out that previous Conservative election promises to limit immigration had not been kept and that net migration had increased around three times since the last election in 2019.

At one point during Tuesday's debate, Sunak accused Labor of having no plan to curb the number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. And he has hinted that he would be willing to take Britain out of international agreements if he were to remain prime minister, but he has been thwarted in his efforts to put some of those arriving on the British coast on one-way flights to the Rwanda.

Starmer described that plan as an “expensive gimmick” and attacked Sunak for increasing legal immigration after the 2019 general election. “The prime minister says 'It's too high',” Starmer said, adding: “Who Is responsable?”

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