Sir Keir Starmer brands Rishi Sunak 'desperate' and says 'of course there will be TV debates'

24 May 2024, 06:05 | Updated: 24 May 2024, 11:49

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of "sounding a bit desperate" after the prime minister accused him of "chickening out" of TV debates.

The Labour leader told Sky News that "of course there are going to be TV debates" and they are "part and parcel of the election cycle now".

"I obviously want to spend as much of my time talking to voters directly", he added.

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Sir Keir said he could do "100 debates with Rishi Sunak but I know what he's going to say".

"He's going to say everything is fine, the cost of living crisis is over, the health service hasn't got any problems.

"And that is all he ever says.

"Of course there are going to be debates, but he is sounding a bit desperate now."

However, Sir Keir would not commit to Sky News' leaders event in Grimsby, one of our election Target Towns, saying that there will be "negotiations into what exactly we're doing".

It comes after Sir Keir was accused of "chickening out" of weekly showdowns during the election campaign and even branded "spineless" by his political opponents.

Mr Sunak last night challenged him to take part in six TV clashes debating issues such as tax, the cost of living and security.

But Labour said Sir Keir would not agree to "tearing up" the format established in previous elections "just to suit this week's whims of the Tory party".

They indicated Sir Keir would be willing to take part in two debates - with the BBC and ITV.

TV election debates took off in the UK in the 2010 general election when Gordon Brown, Lord David Cameron and Sir Nick Clegg took part in three debates, on ITV, Sky News and the BBC.

Realistically, TV schedules in June and early July are packed with the group stages and knock-out matches in the Euro 2024 football tournament - with England the favourites - meaning six election debates are highly unlikely.

U-turns 'reality of Tory damage'

In his interview with Sky News, Sir Keir went on to defend a series of policy U-turns, saying they are the "practical reality of Tory damage to the economy".

Sir Keir has been criticised for rowing back on many pledges he won the Labour leadership on, such as scrapping university tuition fees.

He said the state of the economy meant he had to prioritise other issues, such as NHS waiting lists.

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"We've got [NHS] waiting lists that are the best part of eight million - the money is not available to do both.

"In the end, if you can't do both, you have to make a decision. I've taken a political choice.

"It's the practical reality of the damage that the Tories have done to the economy".

Starmer denies launching 'project fear' in Scotland

Sir Keir is in Scotland today to launch the party's general election campaign north of the border.

Labour will need to win back many seats in its former traditional heartlands if it wants to secure a majority when voters go to the polls on 4th July.

Sir Keir acknowledged this at a campaign event in Glasgow, telling a crowd of supporters: "This is an election about change. Scotland's voice is absolutely vital and it needs to be a leading voice."

Speaking to our political editor Beth Rigby later, he rejected the suggestion he was trying to "frighten" Scots into voting Labour in order to kick out the Tories.

He said: "It's a recognition of the low base we started from in 2019, the project we are building, which I want to be a project for all of Britain, but also something that is important to me personally.

"Of course it's important we have the numbers but I want to be a prime minister for the whole of the United Kingdom and that means strong representation in Scotland."