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Battle for Number Ten: Reactions to Sunak and Starmer’s interview on Sky News

The Conservatives Twitter account went curiously silent following the YouGov exit poll from Sky’s Battle for Number 10 program declared that 64% of people thought Starmer had won. 

The debate in Grimsby gave the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 45 minutes rather than the 45 seconds in last week’s ITV debate to elaborate on key policy issues.

Rishi Sunak took control of the Conservatives X account commentating on Starmer’s performance, whilst he was grilled by Beth Rigby and then the audience. 

He honed in on Rigby’s quizzing on whether and where Labour will raise taxes: 

Signing of RS to highlight they were his words, rather than the Tory spin machines he used Rigby’s questioning to back up his controversial claim in the ITV debate last Wednesday that ‘independent’ Treasury figures showed Labour’s proposed policies would cost the average family £2000. 

James Bowler, the most senior civil servant in the Treasur,y wrote to Starmer saying the figure had not been produced entirely by them, and that it was an aggregate of Treasury figures, Think Tank estimates and Conservative calculations. 

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has labelled the Tory Manifesto implausible.

However, Starmer’s attempt to ridicule the numbers last week, labelling it Corbynite, opened the door to Rigby quizzing him about his political flip flopping.

This was made easier by the fact that the Labour manifesto is due to be released tomorrow, and thus has not been subject.

The PM commented:

Rigby pointed to his role in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, and his enthusiastic endorsement of Corby for PM despite rumours of personal and political clashes.

Starmer responded that he never thought that Corbyn would win, and that he listened to the electorate when Labour suffered a wipeout at the 2019 general election. 

Interestingly Starmer chose to highlight this on X despite looking uncomfortable:

This generated mixed reviews amongst commentators, with Rory Stewart and Alaister Campbell agreeing on their post-debate podcast that Starmer did well to reject tribalism when the mission is to win voters in Tory heartlands.

Emily Maitliss and Jon Sopel of the News Agents said however that while his political manoeuvring is understandable within Westminster’s political culture, it came across as cynical which might not wash with the electorate. 

What became clear in responses on X was that, like the ITV debate, many thought both leaders stiff and over rehearsed.

Gareth Roberts wrote in the Spectator: “The staggering mediocrity and dullness of Sunak and Starmer has lent this outcome, despite the inevitable very different final outcome, the air of a no score draw between non league Tier 11 teams. 

“What did terrible cosmic sin did the British public commit that we were lumbered with this pair of tailor’s dummies?”

There were comments about the tone deaf, lack of political agility from commentators and the audience guffawed when Sunak noting the laugh when Sunak repeating the pledge to scrap Capital Gains Tax (tax paid when buying a house) for homes up to £425k.

One social media user replied: 

Memes have proliferated overnight congratulating the PM on being on Sky TV, when his main hardship as a child was not having a Sky Box: 

Starmer has been subject to ridicule, with ‘My Dad is a toolmaker’ trending on X and generating a audible giggle from the audience. 

The general consensus seems to be that, of the two, he connected better with the audience but waffled at times and still sounded too rehearsed: 

The Labour leader seemed to be at his strongest and most visceral when responding to the “hard political decision” of introducing VAT on private schools, to pay for maths teachers and other STEM subjects.

He said he had no moral or political issue with private schools, but he had an urgent problem of state school children not having any maths teachers so he had to make a touch political decision to end a tax break. 

Sunak replied on X:

However, X users and commentators seem to have responded positively to his authenticity and think helped minimise the alienation middle class parents who send their children to private school whose votes he is trying to win. 

Despite journalists watching commenting that the show was the spieciest so far, the paper’s response has been lacklustre.

The Guardian simply posting video clips with no commentary and, apart from the Daily Mail, no paper lead with it this morning. 

The Daily Mail wasn’t offering hope rather a warning to right wing voters: “A tory party wipeout risks a one-party socialist state.”

Photo by James Newcombe on Unsplash

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