Election campaign day 14: Sunak accused of ‘lying’ in TV debate

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of lying over Labour’s tax plans in the opening leaders’ TV debate of the General Election campaign.

Here are the key moments from day 14 of the campaign:

– Red letter day

It was supposed to be the day campaigning took a back seat for the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations but it instead saw a furious row break out amid the fallout from the leaders’ debate.

The hour-long encounter screened on ITV saw the Prime Minister repeatedly accused Sir Keir of planning a £2,000 tax rise for every household in the country if Labour wins the election on July 4.

The figure, he explained, had come from “independent Treasury officials” who had costed Labour’s spending plans for the Government.

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Keir Starmer (left) has accused Rishi Sunak of deliberately lying during the ITV leaders’ debate (Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA)

Doing the morning broadcast round, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho went further, saying it was “something which has been signed off by the permanent secretary of the Treasury”.

At which point Labour cried “foul”, producing a letter from said permanent secretary, James Bowler, stating the Tories’ figure “includes costs beyond those provided by the Civil Service” and should not be presented as coming from the Treasury.

“I have reminded ministers and advisers that this should be the case,” he added.

Labour said the Prime Minister had been caught red-handed in a lie and demanded an apology which rather begged the question as to why Sir Keir did not produce his “gotcha” moment in the TV studio on Tuesday evening.

The Labour leader however later upped the ante, claiming Mr Sunak had been well-aware of what he was doing, in breach of the rules for ministers.

“He breached the ministerial code because he lied and he lied deliberately,” he said.

For the Tories, ministers continued to insist they were right to focus on the tax implications of Labour’s spending proposals, but with Mr Sunak preoccupied with D-Day and unavailable for comment himself, the row looks unlikely to go away any time soon.

– Quote of the day

– Bad boy Ed

The Liberal Democrats may sometimes appear to be the “goody two-shoes” of British politics but that image took something of a battering with the disclosure that leader Sir Ed Davey has been fined for speeding.

The Evening Standard revealed that Sir Ed had been clocked by Bedfordshire Police travelling at 73mph in his Ford B-Max on a section of the M1 where there was a temporary 60mph limit in place.

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Ed Davey with the Lib Dems’ Yellow Hammer 1 battlebus (Jacob King/PA)

Not only that, he was hauled up in front of magistrates after he failed to provide details of his driving licence when he attempted to plead guilty by post.

By way of explanation Sir Ed said he had been “super-busy” and did not read the form properly.

The result was a a £72 fine with a £28 victim surcharge and three penalty points added to his licence.

– Picture of the day

General Election campaign 2024
Jeremy Corbyn poses with supporters after handing in his nomination papers at Islington Town Hall (Lucy North/PA)

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to be rather sensitive about his successor’s attempts to distance himself from his time in charge of the party.

Since the campaign kicked off, Sir Keir has missed no opportunity to remind people that Labour has changed since he took over in the wake their catastrophic 2019 election defeat.

However Mr Corbyn, who is now standing as an independent, insisted that Sir Keir had been “very happy” to serve in his shadow cabinet.

“He seems to think that forgetting the past and pretending it never happened is somehow going to make you strong,” he told reporters as he handed in nomination papers at Islington Town Hall.

“You can’t just diss the past – you’ve got to understand why things happen.”

Mr Corbyn was suspended by Sir Keir after he refused fully to accept the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s findings that the party broke equality law when he was in charge, claiming antisemitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

– Selection blues

A general election would not be an election without a row about a candidate being “parachuted in” to a constituency by the leadership at the last minute, against the will of the locals.

Election
Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden (James Manning/PA)

On this occasion, however, it is the Tory Party’s national chairman Richard Holden, who is being imposed upon the Basildon Conservative Association in Essex after his former seat of North West Durham disappeared as a result of boundary changes.

Andrew Baggott, the leader of the Conservative group on Basildon Council, described the behaviour of the leadership in presenting them with a fait accompli as “shameful” and said that he would not be campaigning for Mr Holden.

“They have shown complete disrespect and arrogance to all the party volunteers, all the party members, hardworking Conservatives in this borough,” he said.

“I will not be campaigning for somebody that is being imposed upon us.”

– More heat than light

ITV’s leaders’ debate attracted a peak audience of 5.5 million, according to the broadcaster, sharply down on the 6.7 million who tuned in to watch Mr Corbyn go head-to-head with Boris Johnson in 2019.

Afterwards the pollsters were divided as to who came out on top.

A snap poll from YouGov suggested the Prime Minister performed marginally better, with 51% making him the winner against 49% for Sir Keir.

But a Savanta survey suggested the Labour leader had had the better of things, by a margin of 53% to 47%.

Perhaps the most telling finding came from the YouGov survey which found 62% had found the debate “frustrating” and just 17% thought it had been a helpful exercise.

– Social media moment

Social media users on X demonstrated that even the Prime Minister is not immune to the platform’s community notes feature after Rishi Sunak posted his claim that “Keir Starmer’s tax rises will cost working families £2,094.”

The post was accompanied by a gif captioned: “If you think Labour will win, start saving. Labour’s promises to cost working families £2,094”.

The PM has faced criticism for this claim after it emerged the Treasury’s permanent secretary James Bowler said ministers had been told not to suggest civil servants produced the figure at the heart of the Tory attack.

X users were quick to undermine Mr Sunak’s claim meanwhile, with a community note, albeit misattributing the quote from the Treasury’s permanent secretary James Bowler to Labour’s shadow Treasury chief secretary Darren Jones, soon appearing on his post.

It read: “Rishi Sunak’s claim that Labour would implement a £2,000 tax rise and that this figure was by ‘independent Treasury officials’ was refuted by chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones, who said the claims ‘should not be presented as having been produced by the Civil Service'”.

– What the polls are saying

One nationwide opinion poll has been published in the last 24 hours, showing Labour still ahead of the Tories.

POLITICS Election Polls
(PA Graphics)

The survey by Savanta gave a Labour 14 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives.

An average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 5 puts Labour on 45%, 22 points ahead of the Conservatives on 23%, followed by Reform on 12%, the Lib Dems on 9% and the Greens on 5%, largely unchanged from the previous seven days.

– What’s happening tomorrow

Another relatively quiet day on the campaign trail is expected as the D-Day commemorations reach their climax.