Sky News leaders’ event: Live updates and analysis on Starmer versus Sunak

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are facing the public live on TV again tonight via Sky News’ special leaders’ event, in one of the most high-profile clashes of the general election so far.

The Labour and Conservative leaders are each due to face questions in turn from 7.30pm, with Starmer going first, on Sky News “The Battle for Number 10” programme.

We’ll have a livestream and live updates with the latest key highlights, reaction and analysis from experts and Labour voices below.

The two main parties’ leaders previously locked horns on ITV – where they debated topics including the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS and immigration. Several polls and our own poll of readers found Starmer had the better night, though one poll said Sunak did after he spent much of the debate making questionable claims Labour would hike taxes.

9.30pm: Thank you for following our live coverage

Thank you for following our live updates of The Battle for Number 10 from Sky News. Make sure to come back tomorrow for extensive coverage of Labour’s manifesto launch.

9.22pm: ‘Starmer won… especially with the audience questions’, says Ayesha Hazarika

9.20pm: Sunak ‘a defeated man’

Speaking after tonight’s event, an audience member who was a life-long Conservative member said he thought the Prime Minister came across like a “defeated man” and suggested he would not back the Tories at the general election.

9.14pm: Almost two-thirds say Starmer performed best

YouGov’s snap poll following tonight’s leaders’ event puts Keir Starmer streaks ahead of the Prime Minister on who performed best.

Some 64% thought Starmer was the better performer tonight, with only 36% thinking Sunak was the best.

9.13pm: ‘Sunak out of touch and unable to deliver’

Following tonight’s leader’s event on Sky News, Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said: “Keir Starmer showed in his answers tonight that he will always put country before party. That’s what has driven the changes he has made to Labour over the past few years.

“Rishi Sunak showed tonight that he’s out of touch and unable to deliver. The Conservatives will leave mortgage holders £4,800 worse off.”

“Our manifesto will set out our plan for change. It’s time to end the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild with Labour.”

9.10pm: Sunak chat with Beth Rigby ‘like a sad redundancy exit interview’

9.07pm: ‘People crying out for change’

Wes Streeting on Sky News has said the public is “crying out for change” and said Labour has a “credible plan” for government.

“We are desperate to deliver the change that people are crying out for,” he said.

9.06pm: Analysis from Kate McCann

9.01pm: Leaders’ event comes to a close

Tonight’s leaders’ event has come to an end – YouGov are set to release a snap poll about the performance of Sunak and Starmer in the next few minutes…

8.59pm: Why would young people believe the Tories have their best interests at heart?

Sunak takes a question from a young audience member asking why young people should back the Conservatives. He said that National Service would be “transformative” for the country, sparking laughter from the audience, and repeated his plans to help first-time buyers.

“Are you going to criminalise those who refuse to take part?” No, says the Prime Minister.

8.56pm: ‘Vote for Reform is a vote for Keir Starmer in No 10’

An audience member heckled the Prime Minister to ask whether people should vote for Reform – Sunak said that voting for Reform would only let Labour into government. He went on to repeat false claims that Labour would raise taxes.

8.53pm: ‘True blue’ voter says she is now undecided

A “true blue” Conservative has told Rishi Sunak is now an undecided voter after the Prime Minister opted to leave the D-Day commemorations early.

Sunak has said the election is about the future we want for our country and repeated his apology over D-Day.

The audience member said that trust broke down for her over the Partygate scandal, with Rishi Sunak receiving a fixed penalty notice for breaking covid restrictions.

8.50pm: First Rwanda flight will take off on July 24

In case you missed it earlier on tonight, Rishi Sunak told Beth Rigby that the first flight to Rwanda would take off on July 24 – 20 days after voters go to the polls in the general election.

8.46pm: ‘Chronic underfunding of NHS’

An audience member who works in the NHS has spoken of the “chronic underfunding” in the NHS, with patients waiting in corridors for treatment. When asked how he would improve the health service, Sunak explains how his parents worked in the NHS and said he has put record funding into the health service.

Sunak said his government implemented a long-term workforce plan to train more staff and reduce the reliance on staff from overseas.

The Prime Minister faced criticism for re-opening the country too soon during the pandemic, which saw an increase in covid cases.

8.44pm: Sunak grilled on mortgage increases

An audience member has said that the Conservatives have “spoiled the hopes and dreams” of people hoping to get on the housing ladder after mortgage rates rose after Liz Truss’ mini-budget.

Sunak has said that inflation has come down and said that should be reflected in mortgage rates. He also said the Tories would abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers and re-introduce a form of Help to Buy.

8.40pm: ‘Broken promises’

Beth Rigby highlights the “broken promises” under the Conservatives, including over Brexit, and asked whether Sunak understands why people want to “see him get his P45”.

Sunak said he can understand people’s frustrations but said the election is about the future and that the country has turned a corner.

8.38pm: Praise for Sky News format

Luke Tryl of More in Common has said that the format for tonight’s leaders’ event is “far more effective than head to head debates”.

He said: “Both leaders [are] coming under actual pressure on areas of weakness and the unknowns, rather than being able to rely on soundbites/pre-prepared lines that a debate rewards.”

8.30pm: ‘Utterly shameful’

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has said it is “utterly shameful” of the Prime Minister to blame NHS staff for his failures on NHS waiting lists.

8.27pm: Groans and jeers from audience on NHS

As Rishi Sunak says that industrial action has had an impact on NHS waiting lists, he has faced groans and jeers from the audience.

The Prime Minister was also heckled on bringing down inflation by an audience member who said: “The bills are still the same.”

8.25pm: ‘That went fairly well for Starmer’

Rachel Wearmouth from the i newspaper said there was “no serious trouble” for Starmer in the questions tonight.

8.20pm: Times journalist on Starmer’s performance

8.17pm: ‘No false promises, no gimmicks, no nonsense’

Labour candidate for Peckham Miatta Fahnbulleh has said Keir Starmer has shown the country that he has got a serious plan for government.

“Only Labour can bring in a decade of national renewal,” she said.

8.16pm: Starmer’s section comes to a close

Keir Starmer has completed his 45-minute section on The Battle for Number 10. Rishi Sunak will be facing questions from Beth Rigby and the public next…

8.15pm: What can Labour offer young people?

Starmer said he understands what young people are struggling with, as he has gone around the country and listened to people. He said there needs to be high-skilled jobs for young people and enough houses for young people to get on the housing ladder – which Labour would address with plans for 1.5m new homes.

8.11pm: ‘Political robot?’

One audience member has said that Starmer has become a “political robot” over the last year. In response, the Labour leader said he has constantly worked to serve the public, which is why he came into politics.

He said it has become much clearer in his mind that the country has to come first before party and said he is not “tribally political”.

The audience member said that Starmer doesn’t seem to answer the questions being posed.

8.09pm: How would Labour fix crisis in denistry?

Keir Starmer has said that there are “deserts” where people are unable to get NHS dentists. He said Labour would make more appointments available on the NHS and work to recreate NHS dentist practices across the country.

8.05pm: Parent would be priced out of private school under Labour plans

Hussain from London has said he would not be able to continue sending his children to private school under plans to put VAT on private school fees.

Starmer said that every parent has aspirations for their children and said there are thousands of teachers missing in state secondary schools. He said that that is a “lifetime problem” for children in state schools and that Labour would hire 6,500 more teachers – paid for by breaking the tax break for private schools. Starmer said it was a “tough decision” but one that needed to be made. “It’s a tax break we are removing – not introducing a new tax,” he said.

8.03pm: Striking doctor on pay

Starmer has now faced a question from a striking doctor about pay in the NHS. The Labour leader has said he is “frustrated” about how long the strikes have gone on for and said he would “get in the room” to negotiate over pay for healthcare workers.

He criticised the government’s record of dealing with the strikes and said “everything is in a worse state since they came into government”.

7.59pm: Former Shadow Chancellor in two-child benefit cap plea

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has just tweeted calling on Labour to make an amendment to the manifesto to scrap the two-child benefit cap.

He said: “I know this is the very last minute for an appeal for an amendment to the Labour manifesto but before it is published tomorrow I am appealing for this to be included.”

7.57pm: How will Labour help disadvantaged people?

The first question is from Sharon who asks about what Labour will do to help people struggling to get by. Starmer said people in Grimsby wants a government that matches their ambition and said Labour would make the conditions to allow businesses to thrive.

7.54pm: Starmer facing questions from public

Keir Starmer is about to face questions from members of the public in a studio audience in Grimsby…

7.51pm: ‘All my life, I’ve believed in service’

Starmer is speaking about his time in the Crown Prosecution Service and said he wanted to come into politics to serve the country.

When asked what he fears the most, he said he feels for his family, particularly the impact that being in Number 10 could have on his teenage children. “I don’t fear the big decisions – the only thing that keeps me up at night is worrying about my children,” he said.

7.48pm: Starmer questioned on two-child benefit cap

Rigby has asked if Labour would scrap the two-child benefit cap – Starmer said it is not in the party’s manifesto. He said that “huge damage” has been done to the economy by the Conservatives and said: “I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep.”

7.45pm: ‘No surprises in manifesto’

Starmer has said there are “no surprises” on tax in the manifesto, and said there is no plans to increase capital gains tax when questioned.

He has also ruled out a “wealth tax” in the party’s manifesto.

7.44pm: What about other tax increases?

Keir Starmer is being asked about other potential tax increases, including fuel duty and council tax – he has said that Labour’s focus will be on growing the economy and that working people are being taxed too much already.

7.42pm: Sunak booed as he arrives at event

7.40pm: ‘No tax rises for income tax, National Insurance, VAT’

Keir Starmer has emphasised that Labour will not increase taxes for working people and said there would be no increases in income tax, National Insurance or VAT.

7.37pm: Starmer questioned on ten pledges

Starmer has said that he has changed his position on several of the pledges he made in his leadership campaign to put the country first. On energy nationalisation, Starmer said that the policy would have cost “tens of billions of pounds”, which he said could be better spent trying to reduce energy bills.

7.35pm: ‘I was certain we would lose in 2019’

Keir Starmer has said that, during the election campaign, “I was certain we would lose”. When questioned about why he campaigned to have Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister, Starmer said he “honestly didn’t think we would win” and campaigned to ensure colleagues would keep their seats in Parliament.

7.33pm: Starmer questioned on ‘broken promises’

Starmer has faced questions about “broken promises”, including pledges he made during his leadership campaign. In response, he said the party had to change after the last election defeat and put the party “back in the service of working people”. He dismissed suggestions there is a trust issue with the Labour Party under his leadership.

7.30pm: Leaders’ event kicks off

Sky News’ leaders’ event has kicked off, with Beth Rigby chairing tonight’s programme. Keir Starmer will be interviewed first and will take questions from the public in his 45-minute segment.

7.25pm: Snap poll after tonight’s event

YouGov will have a snap poll immediately after tonight’s event – we will be dissecting the poll as soon as it comes out…

7.20pm: Beth Rigby on what she expects from tonight’s event

7.10pm: How might Grimsby vote?

Tonight’s event is being broadcast from Grimsby in Lincolnshire, which voted Conservative for the first time since the Second World War in 2019.

According to forecaster Electoral Calculus, the new Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes constituency is predicted to swing back to Labour on July 4. Labour is forecast to win 50.1%, up from 32.4%, with the Tories down from 56% to just 29.7%.

7.00pm: Keir Starmer to answer questions first

Labour leader Keir Starmer will face questions first in tonight’s special leaders’ event on Sky News, after Jon Craig drew a red ball from a bag to determine the order.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

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