General election: ‘cowardly’ Starmer accused of dodging weekly TV debates | Politics News

A Labor source told Sky News that the party “will not break the format established in previous elections just to suit the whims of the Conservative party this week”.

By Jon Craig, chief political correspondent @joncraig

Friday 24 May 2024 02:42, United Kingdom

Rishi Sunak and senior Tories have sparked the first major row of the election campaign by accusing “cowardly” Sir Keir Starmer of “shining away” from weekly TV debates.

The Prime Minister challenged the Labor leader to take part in six television showdowns during the campaign, in which issues such as taxes, the cost of living and security were debated.

But the Labor high command has hit back, stating Mr KeirHis priority is spending time on the road talking to voters and he revealed he will take part in two television debates with the prime minister.

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Realistically, the television schedule for June and early July is packed with the group stages and knockout matches of the Euro 2024 football tournament (with England the favourites), meaning that there will be six election debates highly unlikely.

But, undaunted by a clash between football and politics, Mr Sunak launched his challenge to the Labor leader in a Daily Telegraph article declaring: “There are big issues at stake in this election.

“Do we continue to cut taxes or increase taxes on working households as the Labor Party would do?

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“Do we prioritize energy security and your family’s finances in our approach to net zero or do we prioritize environmental dogma as Sir Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband would?

“And above all, how can we give this country the secure future it deserves?”

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

Using harsher language, Tory chairman Richard Holden increased the pressure on Sir Keir, telling the Daily Express: “It is no surprise that the cowardly Sir Keir Starmer is chickening out on the debates he publicly promised to do just a few months ago.

“It is time for Sir Keir to strengthen himself. The public deserve to hear and consider what the man who wants to be our Prime Minister has to say before he changes his mind again.”

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In January, Sir Keir told television election debates: “I’ve been saying let’s do it for a long, long time. I’m happy to debate any time.”

And rejecting Tory claims of a U-turn, Labor sources told Sky News that Sir Keir will speak to voters and answer media questions throughout the election campaign.

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“The Labor Party believes that spending time on the road talking to voters across the country is the priority and that is why Keir Starmer plans to take part in the two most watched debates – BBC and ITV,” said a senior party source.

“We will not break the format established in previous elections just to adapt to the whims of this week’s Conservative party.”

Sky News election debate in 2010

Television election debates took off in the UK in the 2010 general election, when Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg took part in three debates, on ITV, Sky News and the BBC.

They were claimed to be responsible for the “Cleggmania” that eventually led to Clegg becoming deputy prime minister in Cameron’s coalition government.

During the debates, the phrase “I agree with Nick”, frequently used by Cameron and Brown, became a slogan successfully used by the Liberal Democrats during the election campaign.

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In the last general election, in 2019, there were two debates between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and it seems likely that there will be two again in this campaign.

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