‘I miss Liz Truss’: Joe Lycett and Kathy Burke lead celebrity reactions to first leadership debate

The head-to-head on ITV saw Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in heated exchanges over the NHS, immigration and tax

Ellie Harrison
Wednesday 05 June 2024 10:10 BST
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Key moments from first Sunak-Starmer debate

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The first TV debate ahead of the general election aired on ITV last night (4 June), with Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer swapping blows for an hour – and the celebrity reactions have been rolling in thick and fast.

Presenter Julie Etchingham moderated the ill-tempered debate, and emerged as the hero of the night as she tried to keep the squabbling men in line. At one point she was forced to tell the bickering politicians: “We will lower our voices please, gentlemen.”

The debate saw heated exchanges over tax, the NHS and immigration, with Prime Minister Sunak repeatedly talking over Etchingham.

Both leaders used the programme to tell voters their personal stories, harking back to their childhood experiences, their families, and the moments that formed their political identities.

Reacting to Labour leader Starmer talking about his father, who was a toolmaker, comedian Rhys James posted on X/Twitter: “Keir Starmer really doesn’t realise how much of a self-own the phrase ‘my dad was a toolmaker’ is, does he?”

He added that Sunak should have responded with, “Yeah you’re right, your dad was a tool maker,” continuing: “Bang. Election over. But Rishi has no vibe and no rizz. He doesn’t understand the British public vote for banter, not the desperate eyebrows of a man begging not to be swirlied.”

Throughout the evening, comic Joe Lycett shared numerous pictures of former 45-day PM Liz Truss, all with the caption: “I miss her every single day.”

Lycett made headlines in 2022 when he appeared on the BBC politics show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg straight after Truss. After Kuenssberg’s interview with Truss came to an end, Lycett could be heard cheering off-screen, shouting: “You smashed it, Liz!” Lycett then joked he was “extremely right-wing”.

Sunak and Starmer
Sunak and Starmer (PA Wire)

Reacting to the debate last night, comedian Kathy Burke simply wrote of Sunak: “Our country is broken says the c*** who broke it.”

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Author Caitlin Moran remarked: “Rishi Sunak talking over everyone just comes across as exhaustingly rude and arrogant.”

And presenter Carol Vorderman posted numerous tweets about Sunak being out of touch when talking about his first flat, and the audience laughing at his plan to introduce national service, calling him “entitled” and “greedy”. She added: “Time for Julie Etchingham to tell Sunak to shut up.”

Tuesday night’s debate was the first of three planned debates ahead of the general election on 4 July.

A snap YouGov poll of 1,657 viewers has revealed that viewers were almost evenly divided on who came across best.

The results show a near-tie, with Sunak seen as having given the best performance by 51 per cent to Starmer’s 49 per cent.

In YouGov’s recent poll of the election campaign more generally, however, it is predicted that Labour are on course to surpass Tony Blair’s landslide majority in 1997.

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