General election 2024: What Sunak and Starmer need to pull off in the first TV general election debate | Politics News

The Conservative leader Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer will tonight go head-to-head in the first TV debate during this year’s general election campaign.

On Sky News’s Electoral Dysfunction podcast, party insiders give their views on what each leader needs to pull off under the bright lights of the studio.

Speaking to political editor Beth Rigby, Labour peer Ayesha Hazarika said Rishi Sunak has just “two jobs” to achieve tonight.

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“He’s got to and try and really land a blow on Starmer,” said Baroness Hazarika, who also advised then Labour leader Ed Miliband during his 2015 election campaign against David Cameron.

“And given that he hasn’t really done that at PMQs, that is quite a high bar for him.”

Secondly the prime minister has to appeal to “those old Tory voters who are flirting with [the Reform party]” and send them a message: “come back home to the Conservative Party”, added Baroness Hazarika.

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That’s all he needs to focus on because the PM is “not trying to win this election at this point” but reduce the loss of seats from 200 to more like 100 to 150, the Labour peer said.

Keir Starmer, on the other hand, has only “one job”, she said.

“He has got to come out, and he’s got to look like a prime minister.”

Not “trip over the stage or anything like that”, and just “look like somebody who could feasibly I could see at Downing Street. That’s his only job.”

She also called it “strategically the right decision” to appear only with Mr Sunak, because “why should he put himself up there with every other party leader when everybody will gang up on him?”

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Meanwhile, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson said the debates are less about the “words that you say” and more about “what you convey”, ahead of ITV’s debate.

“It’s your presence. It’s how you speak. It’s who you appeal to. It’s the kind of wood for the trees thing.”

And whereas Mr Sunak has to defend the track record of five Tory prime ministers, including himself, “who all believe different things and have done different things” – all Sir Keir has to get across is “I’m going to do better than you because you’ve been rubbish”, added Ms Davidson.

The prime minister will be hoping to make an impact after the latest YouGov poll for Sky News.

The polling projection, known as an MRP, shows Labour could be on course to win a huge 194-seat majority – bigger than even Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Tories are projected to get 140 seats, with 48 going to the Lib Dems, 17 to the SNP, and two to the Greens.

However, Sir Keir and his team will also be worried about complacency, and will be hoping to solidify their standing in front of the studio audience tonight.

Email Beth at [email protected], Tweet Beth @BethRigby, or send a WhatsApp voice note on 07934 200 444.

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