Starmer v Sunak: Countdown almost over to Sky News leaders’ special event

Politics

The countdown is almost over. In just a matter of hours, Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer will answer questions from Beth Rigby and audience members in the Sky News leaders’ special event.

The Battle for No 10 will be broadcast live from Grimsby with each leader facing 20 minutes of questions from Sky’s award-winning political editor and 25 minutes of questions from audience members.

In an FA Cup-style draw for which leader goes first, on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, I pulled the red ball out of a bag first and the blue second, meaning Sir Keir goes first, followed by Mr Sunak.

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Sunak or Starmer? Who will go first at Sky’s event…

Earlier this week, speaking to Sky News, the Labour leader said: “I’m really looking forward to it because I enjoy being able to talk directly to Sky viewers and to the audience there in Grimsby.

“I think having slightly more time will allow us to develop some of the answers that we need to give.”

The Sky News programme, starting at 7pm, is the second live TV grilling of the two rivals for 10 Downing Street during this election campaign, following a one-hour debate on ITV.

At the ITV debate last week, which a snap poll by YouGov suggested Mr Sunak shaded by 52% to 48%, the two leaders were given 45 seconds to respond to each question put to them.

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Explaining the format of the Sky News programme, executive editor and managing director Jonathan Levy said: “People said they wanted to hear more from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

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“So, Sky News is giving them more time to tell you about their plans for your future. Each candidate – 45 minutes, not 45 seconds – in-depth and unfiltered. We’re giving the nation the full story, first.”

Sky News’s lead UK presenter Sarah-Jane Mee will be among the representative audience – drawn from the local area and nationally – as they put their questions to Mr Sunak and Sir Keir in 25-minute slots.

The questioning of the two leaders comes roughly half-way through the six-week general election campaign, with polling day on 4 July.

It also comes as the latest YouGov poll for Sky News, carried out on Monday and Tuesday, showed Labour on 38% (down three points on last week), the Conservatives on 18% (down one point), Reform UK just behind the Tories on 17% (up one point) and the LibDems on 15% (up four points after their manifesto launch).

And it takes place in between the launch of the manifestos of the two major parties, the day after the Conservatives launched theirs at Silverstone motor racing circuit and the day before the Labour launch on Thursday.

The new parliamentary constituency of Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes is a key battleground in this election and Sky News has been broadcasting regularly from both towns during the campaign.

Previously there were two constituencies: Great Grimsby, Labour from 1945 until a “Red Wall” Tory victory in 2019, and Cleethorpes, Labour since it was created in 1997, but Conservative since 2010.

The former Great Grimsby constituency was steeped in political history, largely because it was represented from 1959 until his death in 1977 by a giant of Labour Party politics, Anthony Crosland.

He was a Labour moderniser long before Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson and was the author of the 1956 bible of Labour moderates The Future of Socialism, which was hugely influential among the centre-left.

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He held several cabinet posts under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan and was also a massive football fan, taking Henry Kissinger to watch Grimsby Town v Gillingham while he was foreign secretary in 1976.

After Mr Crosland’s sudden death in 1977, TV presenter Austin Mitchell – who famously refereed an explosive live studio clash between Brian Clough and Don Revie in 1974, immortalised in the film The Damned United – held the seat by just 520 votes in a by-election.

Mr Mitchell was an early campaigner for the televising of Parliament and presented a political show, Target, on Sky News from 1989 to 1998 with the Tory former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit, who’s now 93.


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A colourful and at times eccentric character, Mr Mitchell temporarily changed his name in 2002 to Austin Haddock, in a publicity stunt as part of a campaign to boost Grimsby’s fishing industry.

After he retired in 2015, the constituency stayed Labour until the 2019 general election, when it became one of the Red Wall seats won by the Conservatives. It had been Labour since 1945 but was not always a safe seat.

Cleethorpes was Labour in the Blair and Brown years until the Conservatives won it in 2010. Like Grimsby, it’s an old fishing town and is now a seaside resort with a beach, pier and amusements.

Both towns voted heavily for Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, 71.4% in Great Grimsby and 69.5% in Cleethorpes. Both towns have received up to £20m in levelling up cash from the government in recent years.

Battle for no 10 promo

The Battle For Number 10 Leaders Special Event, airs tonight from 7pm-10pm on Sky News – free wherever you get your news.

Freeview channel 233, Sky 501, Virgin 603, BT 313 and streaming on the Sky News website, app and across social channels. It is also available to watch on Sky Showcase.

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