Tories brand Starmer ‘scared’ as Labour leader rejects weekly TV debates with Sunak

Sir Keir Starmer has rejected a challenge by Rishi Sunak to take part in head to head TV debates every week between now and polling day.

The Labour leader defended his decision saying he would rather talk to voters directly and claimed the prime minister had nothing new to say.

He poured cold water on the idea after Mr Sunak called for a record six TV election debates and accused the Labour leader of ducking out because he “does not have a plan.”

With the latest Techne UK weekly tracker poll giving Labour a 26 point lead, Sir Keir has more to lose from televised debates than an increasingly desperate Rishi Sunak.

Sir Keir said on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’: “I could do a hundred debates with Rishi Sunak - I know what he is going to say. He is going to stand up and say everything is fine, the cost of living crisis is over.”

Asked if he was “backing away from the fight,” he said: “Of course we will have debates - they are a tradition and part of the electoral cycle. The debate I want to have is with the voters directly.”

The Tories noted that the Labour leader had not committed to any TV debates at all. However, Labour sources have reportedly indicated Sir Keir will take part in two televised showdowns with Mr Sunak on BBC and ITV.

Sir Keir Starmer not keen on weekly TV debates (Maja Smiejkowska/PA) (PA Wire)
Sir Keir Starmer not keen on weekly TV debates (Maja Smiejkowska/PA) (PA Wire)

The two leaders’ spat over the matter continued when Mr Sunak ridiculed Sir Keir for allegedly dodging weekly TV confrontations.

The Prime Minister issued a social media post stating: “Not coming to a debate near you.”

Energy secretary Claire Coutinho said: “Sir Keir Starmer is too scared to debate the Prime Minister because he doesn’t have a plan and hasn’t got the courage to stand up and say what he believes in or to stand up for Britain.

“The only thing we can be sure of with Labour is that their sums won’t add up – Starmer’s green promise is part of Labour’s £38.5 billion spending blackhole that would take working families back to square one with £2,094 of higher taxes to fill the gap.”

Previously Mr Sunak had said: “I want to debate these issues with Sir Keir Starmer. But he doesn’t want to because he doesn’t have a plan and doesn't have the courage to say what he wants to do.”

Televised leaders’ debates first featured in the 2010 campaign, when there were three, but the Conservatives are pushing for a record six this time round.

It is customary for party leaders with a lead in the polls to be less enthusiastic about TV debates, largely on the basis that they have most to lose from a gaffe made on live TV in front of millions.

Conversely leaders behind in the polls are most keen to have them because they have most to gain.

In fact TV debates rarely make much difference to the way people vote.

One notable exception was the impressive performances by former Lib Dem leader Sir Nick Clegg in TV debates in the 2010 election campaign which were credited for making him Deputy Prime Minister in Coalition with David Cameron.