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Voters left none the wiser by leaders’ TV debate

Voters were left confused about who and what to believe after the TV debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer this week.

Think tank Demos is tracking the views of a 32-person panel as part of an election project called Trustwatch, and exclusively sharing their insights with i.

While 5.5 million watched the clash between the two leaders on ITV on Wednesday, a majority of the electorate did not. However, news reports this week have been dominated by the head-to-head, as well as Nigel Farage’s return to lead Reform.

Some on the panel caught “a few snippets” of the debate, and clashes over Rishi Sunak’s claim that Labour would raise taxes by £2,000. Labour has accused the Prime Minister of “lying” about the figure, after publishing a letter from a senior Treasury official which said the data should not be presented as having been compiled by the department.

One SNP voter, from Glasgow, said: “I didn’t watch it. I saw a few snippets today. Sunak had needle stuck on the record with this £2k. I don’t think an election will be won or lost on one figure repeated constantly.

“From the little I’ve seen and heard about I think Sunak comes across as pretty desperate. Starmer doesn’t have to do much on this showing as Sunak doing all the losing all by himself.”

Asked about their main takeaways from the debate, most had heard about the contested £2,000 figure but tended to believe Mr Sunak had been dishonest.

One Tory voter from London, said: “I didn’t actually watch it live but have read and seen some clips, from what I have derived it was conflicting information as usual, the £2,000 increase actually was shown to be £500 per year for four years. There seemed to be confusion over what exactly Labour’s policies are, also confusing details over tax cuts.”

A Labour voter from Blackpool said they would look into the claims more: “Missed the debate last night but caught a small bit on the news saying the main take was Sunak talking about Labour raising taxes by £2,000 and Labour saying that’s not true.

“I need to research it a bit more, but Labour were saying this morning that it’s all spin. I’d like to think that Labour are not lying.”

A Green voter, from Cambridgeshire, was prepared to accept the figure was a lie: “I didn’t watch the debate but have watched some coverage of it. I guess one of the big areas regarding trust was Sunak talking about £2,000 tax increases under Labour multiple times, which turned out not be true.”

Overall, voters were disappointed by the quality of the ITV debate, hosted by Julie Etchingham.

“Frankly it appears rather lacklustre from both sides and Boris [Johnson] and Nigel [Farage] I’m sure could have put on a much better show,” said a Conservative voter, from London.

“Good politicians need performance skills in the same way a barrister does. I don’t believe that Starmer helped himself and he appeared like John Major – a little grey man without policies.

“The great British public only have themselves to blame when Starmer is ousted by his Left. Sunak needs to be given a chance and is actually making progress. It is still all to play for.”

A Labour voter from London added: “General reflections seems to be that people were disappointed in it, and there was too much focus on throwing stones.”

The news that Farage had been made the leader of Reform was a major talking point. A London Labour voter said: “There is a lot of negativity and rock-throwing with that party and with Nigel at helm it makes me nervous about people being quite polarised. And believing the lies.”

A Green voter from Cambridgeshire added: “Although I can’t stand Farage, at least his party is explicit about what their plan is. It’s mostly nonsense, and an admission that reducing immigration would be bad for the economy, but at least he’s committing to some policies. I guess his supporters will feel this gives them more trust in the election as they can vote for their guy.

“For me personally, I think the coverage Farage can get shows that the whole system is basically broken. He’s charismatic and makes bold statements, in contrast to many other politicians who try to say nothing. He makes good TV. But he has no solutions.

“The fact he gets taken seriously while left-wingers are ignored or laughed at does not make me trust the electoral system or the Press. Also, the fact he and Reform are filling a vacuum demonstrates how little the Conservatives and Labour have to offer, and how little the public trust them.

“I think this is an election where there is little enthusiasm and not much hope for the next five years.”

A Conservative voter from London said: “I believe that Nigel Farage has more political understanding than most of our other politicians put together. He is actually a Conservative.

“He will win for Reform and so will another 20 or so Reform candidates and he can then mould the Tory Party in the Reform image and will eventually lead or have Boris Johnson lead a reformed Tory party. They will then lead this new party and one will eventually become our PM.

“Nigel Farage’s involvement gives me more trust for the future as I don’t fancy the ultra-left taking over Labour. They are awaiting a Labour win on July 4.”

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are back on the campaign trail after pausing for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for everything from party manifestos to candidate news and who could decide the election.

Sir Keir and other party leaders have condemned Mr Sunak for departing from D-Day celebrations early, and the Prime Minister issued an apology. Meanwhile, Labour has announced a plan to help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder.

Meanwhile, i has launched its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto, urging parties to commit to five pledges to improve our waterways. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has become the first to back the campaign.

Tonight, seven representatives from the main parties will battle it out in a general election leaders’ debate. Do you have a question for i‘s political experts? We’ll be taking questions in our live blog throughout the debate – submit yours through this form or on Twitter/X.

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