General election 2024: scorecards so far for Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer as both leaders struggle

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The Prime Minister is feeling the heat from across the political spectrum after leaving the 80th anniversary of D-Day early for a TV interview.

Rishi Sunak is facing the biggest crisis of the election campaign so far after ditching the D-Day commemorations early for an interview with ITV.

The Prime Minister is feeling the heat from across the political spectrum, with experienced Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie describing the move as “indefensible”. Sunak’s decision to call a snap election has already caused chaos in the Tory ranks. Conservative MP Lucy Allan has backed the Reform candidate to be her successor in Telford, while a number of big beasts such as Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom have announced they are standing down.

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Problems are also mounting up for Labour as factional battles threaten to derail the party’s campaign. The row over whether Diane Abbott drowned out Keir Starmer’s policy announcements, while he was slow to rule out tax rises in the first leaders’ debate.

Each week until polling day on 4 July, we will give a score to each of the men hoping to become the UK’s Prime Minister. Send in your thoughts to [email protected].

Rishi Sunak v Keir Starmer. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/AdobeRishi Sunak v Keir Starmer. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/Adobe
Rishi Sunak v Keir Starmer. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/Adobe | Mark Hall/Getty/Adobe

Rishi Sunak - D-Day disaster sinks PM’s campaign

After Tuesday’s TV debate (4 June), Rishi Sunak was probably feeling quite chipper. He had managed to hammer Keir Starmer repeatedly with a figure, concocted by Tory special advisers in the Treasury, which said Labour would put up taxes by £2,000 per household. Starmer had taken 26 minutes to deny this, and YouGov’s snap poll had the Prime Minister just shading the debate.

But as with much of Sunak’s time in No10, no sooner has he got on the front foot than he managed once again to stand in a large pile of cow pat. This time the PM chose to fly home early from the 80th D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France. It led to the embarrassing photograph of US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and instead of Sunak, David Cameron.

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It later emerged he had returned to the UK early to give an interview to ITV. This is astonishingly bad optics and has handed an open goal to Nigel Farage, who is set to appear on the BBC’s seven-party debate tonight. It’s just the kind of thing that could push Tory voters towards Reform UK. It’s also left Conservative activists furious, with Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome describing the choice as “political malpractice of the highest order”, with volunteers questioning whether they “should bother” going out to knock on doors.

This has been the story of Sunak’s campaign to date. He caught Labour and the rest of the country off guard by calling the election, but squandered any advantage by giving a confusing speech in the pouring rain. Sources in Labour HQ couldn’t believe the Prime Minister was allowed to go outside in the inclement weather, which made the splash of all the papers the next day (including our sister title the Shields Gazette) - and not for good reasons.

Shields GazetteShields Gazette
Shields Gazette | Shields Gazette

The real problem with Sunak calling an election so suddenly comes down to party management. His MPs have been left annoyed at the sudden prospect of losing their jobs, with Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker publicly decrying the national service policy and campaigning from his holiday in Greece. He told the Mirror: “The Prime Minister told everyone we could go on holiday and then called a snap election. So I've chosen to do my campaign work in Greece.” This does not bode well for the rest of the campaign. On top of that, the party has struggled to find candidates for a number of seats.

3/10 - poor party management and communication strategy - rounded out by the D-Day disaster.

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General election 2024

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Keir Starmer - caution from Labour leader could propel him to No10

As over much of the last few years, merely by being present Keir Starmer has been able to appear impressive compared with an array of Tory Prime Minister’s. On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Labour leader was in Normandy occupying the space that Rishi Sunak had vacated. Starmer met the King and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and looked, to be frank, like the UK’s Prime Minister.

And it’s not the first time that Starmer has profited from Sunak’s gaffes. After the Prime Minister’s rain-drenched opening speech, the Labour leader gave his from inside and he looked like a Prime Minister in waiting flanked by Union Jack flags. On his first big broadcast round two days later, Starmer struggled with some fairly basic questions on the Today Programme. Chief among them was why the Labour leader has abandoned so many pledges he made when going for the party’s leadership, such as free tuition fees for university students. It was confusing with Labour’s “five missions” and “six steps” and it wasn’t clear what Starmer’s concise pitch to voters was.

Since that slightly sticky start Starmer has made some impressive stump speeches, and appeared more confident. In Lancing, Sussex, he passionately spoke about his family growing up, and his mother’s debilitating illness. The Labour leader has often talked about his personal story, but it’s vital if he’s going to connect with voters.

The second week of the campaign was overshadowed by rows over internal party politics. Starmer tried to get out announcements on crime and energy, however the Diane Abbott row sucked up all of the media attention. It appears Starmer’s acolytes bungled an attempt to get Abbott to stand down, by briefing out that she was being blocked from standing.

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This backfired completely, with uproar amongst Labour Party members and even Angela Rayner said Abbott should stand. Starmer meanwhile was left on the backfoot and refused to answer questions on the long-serving Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP’s future for days.

The Labour leader struggled in the early round of the TV debate with Sunak, who pounded him on tax, and it took Starmer 26 minutes to deny these claims. However, he settled into the tussle and I thought he came across fairly well. You can read out full debate scorecard here.

6/10 - steady start from Starmer who has profited from Tory missteps.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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