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They Think It’s All Over…

June 26th 2024

To coin an overly-used footballing phrase, tonight’s debate – the last before polling day next week - was a game of two halves.

Going into this evening’s fixture was a clear favourite to be victorious come the end of the political tournament we’ve all been witness to over the past 5 weeks. Sir Keir’s CHANGED Labour Party, are on paper, the bookies’ favourite – poised to knock one of the democratic World’s most successful political parties off their long-held top spot.

In the other dugout, a deflated - and at times this evening, rattled - Prime Minister whose tenure overseeing the undisputed champions of British politics looks destined to end in a dismissal of resounding mutual consent amongst the electorate. There has been much off the pitch distraction for Sunak during this campaign, from poorly positioned photos, high-profile defections and disastrous D-Day gaffes, to the almost farcical extent to which his party is being investigated by the Gambling Commission – unwanted ‘outside noise’ which has left little bandwidth to focus on the Prime Minister’s policy platform.


These are the knock-out stages of this General Election campaign. Some 20% of the electorate have already cast their vote and a fresh wave of polling this week shows that nothing the Conservatives have done in this campaign has managed to sway voters in their favour.

For Sir Keir, this final head-to-head fixture was an opportunity to address the nation one last time before – presumably- assuming office. And vital last chance to land the key line coming from Labour HQ in this final stage of the Campaign: we can’t be certain of victory, we need every vote. For Sunak, tonight was all about landing a final message to the undecided voters who – if this week’s polling is accurate – are set on shifting their allegiance to Farage and Reform. That message: only one party can prevent Starmer from capitalising on the biggest of political open goals and taking up residence in No10.

As we have already pointed out, unlike in sporting tournaments where viewing figures soar in the latter stages, tonight’s debate was – in all honesty – even more meaningless than the rest. Viewing data tells us that the first head-to-head enjoys the peak of the electorate’s interest, most of whom either make their mind up about the character of the two candidates based on that performance, or often, even earlier.

Nonetheless, we saw a reasonably cagey opening from both sides, with the opening question based around transparency and honesty in politics given the unravelling accusations around Election betting. Sir Keir, rather unsurprisingly given the question, looked the calmer early on and had success landing blows on Sunak over the Conservative Government’s record on pandemic PPE and party gate.

The inevitable counterattack came from the Prime Minister, who in his time of need, found some comfort in his now discredited but familiar line on Labour’s plans to hike taxes – labelled by Sunak as the Labour Party ‘not being straight’ with the electorate.

The first 3 rounds of applause of the evening – an early hattrick - went to Starmer, whose position on reforming the welfare state and NHS wait times to get those who ‘can work, back to work’ landed well with the studio audience.

The rest of the debate saw the usual back-and-forth: Starmer doing well when given the time to articulate himself – notably on women’s rights and trans issues - and the Prime Minister gaining the front foot when putting direct and blunt questions to the opposition, especially on migration and border security. This exchange in particular marked a notable turn of the tide, with the Prime Minister enjoying a prolonged period of debate on small boat crossings and taxation, the audience making clear their preference for Sunak’s position on the topic.

Much like England fans last night, we all expected – deep down - another uneventful draw this evening, and a draw was what we saw. Sunak’s gains were undermined by his irritated persona, and Sir Keir struggled throughout to develop a strong connection with those in the audience and to cut through the Prime Minister’s interjections.

General Elections are like the Euros for us politicos. Once every 4 years (ish), we’re guaranteed a month of awkward interviews, controversial selections, and a nerve rattling conclusion to a contest which takes a huge toll on our emotional psyche. But despite the lacklustre performance of the Home Nations out in Germany, many of the football loving public will mourn the loss of daily competition punctuating our lives, played out on live television for our entertainment. Many of the public will also, of course, be glad to see the back of it.

And so it is for us politicos, both mourning and rejoicing that this simultaneously exhausting yet enthralling Election campaign is drawing to an end. There is, however, a silver lining for football fans and politicos alike - after the Summer break, domestic football returns and we can all get to work scrutinising a new government.