UK’s Sunak and Labour leader Starmer to debate next week

LONDON – Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer will go head-to-head next Tuesday in the first televised debate of the election campaign, broadcaster ITV announced Wednesday. 

The hour-long debate between Sunak and the man heavily tipped to replace him in Downing Street after the July 4 general election will take place in front of a studio audience at 9pm (2000 GMT).

It will air on ITV — one of the country’s most-watched TV channels — and be moderated by its news anchor Julie Etchingham, who hosted previous election debates in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

“Millions of viewers value the election debates,” Michael Jermey, ITV’s director of news and current affairs, said as the broadcaster announced the event.

“They provide a chance to see and hear the party leaders set out their pitch to the country, debate directly with each other and take questions from voters.”

Sunak surprised the UK when he last week announced the decision to hold the election on July 4.

Required by January 28, 2025, at the latest and previously expected later in the year, he faces the electorate with his ruling Tories trailing Labour by double-digit margins in the polls.

The embattled Conservative leader will be eyeing the debate as a prime opportunity to try to narrow the gap, with most surveys showing the first week of campaigning has done nothing to shift opinions.

The Conservatives are reportedly pushing for as many as six debates, but are said to be facing pushback from Labour, which favours far fewer.

However, at least one other debate will likely occur later in the campaign and include the leaders of smaller parties.

Polling released Tuesday suggested little appetite for the events among the electorate, reflecting wider apathy towards the two main candidates.

YouGov research found only one in three are interested in watching a head-to-head debate, and just four percent wanted to see more than five such events.

Meanwhile, four in five respondents backing the debates wanted to include other party leaders in addition to Sunak and Starmer, the pollster said. –AFP