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Starmer and Sunak clash over tax and NHS in fiery TV election debate

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer clashed over taxes, the NHS and education as the political rivals went head to head in a fiery first televised debate of the general election campaign.

Sir Keir attacked Mr Sunak’s record in government, accusing the Conservative Party of losing control and leaving voters “paying the price”.

While Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir’s Labour Party of planning on “raising your taxes and raiding your pensions” and lacking in any other concrete policies.

Taking questions from a live audience, the leaders were pressed on what they would do to improve healthcare, tackle immigration and help families struggling with the cost of living.

The leaders confirmed they would not increase National Insurance or Income Tax in the next Parliament.

And both said they would not raise VAT other than Labour’s plan to impose the levy on private schools.

But in a heated exchange, the two accused each other of talking “nonsense” about their tax and spend policies.

NO USE AFTER THURSDAY JULY 4, 2024. EDITORIAL USE ONLY Handout photo provided by ITV of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during the ITV General Election debate at MediaCity in Salford ahead of General Election on July 4. Issue date: Tuesday June 4, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Election. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during the ITV General Election debate at MediaCity in Salford (Photo: PA)

Mr Sunak claimed Labour would tax pensioners and Sir Keir said the Conservatives had “clocked up billions” of unfunded spending commitments.

The debate got off to a spikey start when Sir Keir claimed Mr Sunak had called an early election because he believes the economic situation will worsen.

Sir Keir said: “He knows inflation is going to go back up, he knows energy prices are going to go back up in the autumn, that is what he is not telling you”.

Hitting back, Mr Sunak claimed a Labour government would not have a plan to deal with challenges.

“You are going to hear a lot about the past in this election,” Mr Sunak said. “This election is about the future and I’m clear that I’m going to keep cutting people’s taxes as we now are.”

Sir Keir accused the PM of trying to distance himself from the Tory government’s record over the past 14 years.

“You may want to just cast it off but everybody else is living with it,” Sir Keir said.

The Prime Minister defended his government’s record on healthcare and cited striking NHS staff as being behind growing hospital waiting lists.

His reference to strikes elicited groans from the live audience and Sir Keir accused the PM of claiming that the problems with healthcare were “somebody else’s fault”.

Pressed on how they would tackle education Mr Sunak said Conservative reforms had made British children the best readers in the world.

Labour will recruit 6,500 new teachers to resolve this “mess”, Sir Keir said, and believe imposing VAT on private schools would give children “changes they need”.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are back out on the campaign trail – and take part in the first leader’s head-to-head debate on ITV on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for 2024 general election coverage.

The Tories have announced proposed changes to gender laws, but the focus has been on Nigel Farage following his shock move to stand as an MP and become leader of Reform UK. Not long after that announcement, the Tories revealed proposals for a new immigration cap.

On migration, Labour has said it will be prepared to process asylum seekers abroad. In London, their former leader Jeremy Corbyn, now standing as an independent candidate, has a fight on his hands to keep his supporters from switching to Starmer.

Got a question for our politics experts? Email [email protected] or tweet us @theipaper during the first live leaders’ debate and it could be answered by Jane Merrick or Hugo Gye.

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