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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips


In this weeks blog, Jo Phillips reflects on the highs and lows of ITV's live debate between Kier Starmer and Rishi Sunak in the run up to the General Election.

The regular reader will know that last week I suggested, perhaps facetiously, that the Conservatives would bring back the test card to woo older voters. Many of us watching this week’s ITV debate between Sunak and Starmer might have thought the test card would have been preferable. Both men were rude and disrespectful to the host, Julie Etchingham, Sunak particularly was guilty of talking over her but both ignored pleas to stop talking over each other. Less than a minute given to big, important issues meant there was no analysis, no probing, no fact-checking and just two middle-aged men behaving like children. It was poor television on so many levels and probably encouraged more people to switch off, literally and figuratively.

Ever since a viewer, Diana Gould, challenged Margaret Thatcher during a live TV show over the British attack on the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict, television executives realised that ordinary people could sink politicians, hence the idea of ‘real people’ challenging them in live broadcasts. That rarely happens, those exchanges are more likely to come in the street, unstructured but inevitably captured on mobile phones for everyone to see. Perhaps we’d have learnt more from a proper, in depth, forensic interview by Mishal Hussain, Andrew Neil or Adam Boulton than the noise of nothing from ITV’s offering.

The Tories can claim some victory from Tuesday’s debate because they’ve managed to make the dubious claim that a Labour government would cost everyone £2,000 a year extra in tax stick. Starmer was too slow to rebut it as nonsense on several occasions and Labour have been forced onto the Tory agenda when the takeaway from the debate should have been Sunak’s ludicrous claim about NHS waiting lists coming down.

It’s time we had a serious, adult conversation about tax. We all pay it either directly or indirectly on services and goods. Most of us are intelligent enough to understand that we need to pay tax but the question that should be front and foremost of this election campaign is how that money will be spent, not how much we can be bribed with. After fourteen years of Tory government, tax rates are the highest they’ve been in 70 years while public services are on their knees.

Of course Covid and the war in Ukraine have had a massive impact – as they have everywhere else in the world – and many people made whopping profits out of Covid through dodgy contracts paid for by the UK taxpayer. But even that doesn’t account for the £130 billion wasted since the 2019 election. Figures collated by Best for Britain, include £290m spent on the Rwanda Deal, £2.3bn spent on cancelled parts of HS2 or £534m on a contract for ‘trader support service’ to help with post Brexit GB/Northern Ireland bureaucracy awarded to Fujitsu for heaven’s sake. It means that around £26 billion per year has been wasted by the Tories which Best for Britain reckons is 30 times the estimated cost of the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to increase GP appointments, more than the total cost of the Green Party’s plan to insulate 10 million homes, and enough to fund Labour’s six key pledges several times over.

So let’s talk tax sensibly and start with the Tories track record on wasting public money and look at the parties that have plans to spend our money on rebuilding our broken public services.

Back to those TV debates – Nigel Farage with Angela Rayner and Penny Mourdant on Friday could be much more fun – Farage might prefer being doused in banana milkshake.

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