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Leaders Debate: Rishi Sunak Desperately Tries to Save Failing Campaign With Vote Leave Style Tax Lie

Conservative-supporting newspapers today lead on an already repeatedly-debunked lie about Labour’s tax plans

The ITV Leaders Debate betwee n Labour leader Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak. Photo: ITV

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With multiple polls suggesting the Conservative Party is heading for its worst ever general election defeat, Rishi Sunak needed a big win in last night’s big TV debate with Keir Starmer.

In the end he didn’t get it. Two snap polls conducted among viewers of the debate had it effectively neck and neck, with pollsters YouGov showing Sunak narrowly ahead on the question of “who performed best” and Savanta instead putting Starmer out in front.

Meanwhile, both pollsters showed Starmer leading on almost all the big personality traits and policy issues.

However, while Sunak may not have got the big game-changer he needed, that hasn’t stopped Conservative-supporting newspapers from attempting to help him manufacture one.

The front pages of the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Times and Express all this morning all lead on Sunak’s entirely false claim during the debate that Keir Starmer plans to raise people’s taxes by £2000 if he become Prime Minister.

This claim, which was made 12 times by the Prime Minister during the debate, is entirely false. As multiple independent fact checkers have already confirmed, this supposed “independent” assessment of Labour’s plans, is actually based on a dossier produced by Rishi Sunak’s own aides, premised on a series of ‘Labour policies’ many of which have not even been adopted by the Labour Party. And while the Conservatives continue to claim that it was produced by civil servants, the Treasury’s own Permanent Secretary warned ministers in advance of the debate, that the figures “should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service”.

It is, in other words, a lie. And a big one.

Yet it seems to have had an effect. YouGov’s snap polling found that while viewers believed Starmer had the better of the Prime Minister on almost all policy areas, Sunak was seen by a clear margin to have beaten him on the issue of tax. 

Just like in 2016 when the Vote Leave campaign led on the lie that leaving the EU would hand £350 million a week to the NHS, Sunak’s £2,000 tax lies is getting a wider audience precisely through it having to be repeatedly countered by his opponents. The fact that some journalists and broadcasters, including in the immediate aftermath of the debate have been debunking the lie, is actively helping it get an airing.

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That Sunak, who promised to lead a Government based on “integrity” and “accountability” is pursuing such a dishonest strategy is unsurprising. In his closing statement the Prime Minister made a series of other false claims about his own record, saying that voters should “choose lower immigration and lower taxes,” despite the fact that he has raised both taxes and immigration by record amounts.

His claim during the debate to have reduced small boat crossings by a third in the past 12 months was another lie that was left uncorrected on air. In reality crossings reached a record high in the first five months of this year.

Meanwhile his separate claim to have brought NHS waiting lists down, while actually having raised them, led to outright laughter from the studio audience, most of whom would no doubt have had direct experience of lengthy waits for any kind of treatment themselves.

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Starmer wasn’t entirely honest during the debate either, claiming that Sunak had promised to scrap inheritance tax at a cost of £10 billion. In reality the Prime Minister has yet to make any such pledge, despite multiple reports suggesting that it is set to be announced later in the campaign.

Yet, with polls suggesting that absolutely none of the policies Sunak has announced so far are making any meaningful difference, the Conservative campaign has clearly decided to simply try to lie their way to a different outcome.

And with much of the media this morning apparently willing to help them spread Sunak’s latest false claim, it remains to be seen whether this strategy will succeed where previous ones have failed.


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