Five questions leaders could face in Sky News event – and what the data says

Politics

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be interrogated by Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby and members of the public tonight.

During The Battle For Number 10, they will talk and be questioned at length about their ambitions, so viewers can understand in detail what their plans are.

Mr Sunak is somewhat on the back foot as he has to defend his party’s 14 years in government, while Labour is yet to publish its manifesto, making it harder to get to the bottom of some of its plans.

But here Sky News picks apart some of the claims – and counter claims – each is likely to make.

Which leader will help with cost of living?

Cost of living and taxes are sure to feature – they consistently rank among voters’ top priorities.

Labour likes to claim families have become £5,883 worse off in total over the last five years.

More on Cost Of Living

But fact-checking organisation Full Fact pointed out the figure doesn’t take into account a broad enough basket of goods, or changes in wages or benefits over the same time.

Factoring these in, the decrease in real disposable income is more like £166, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has found.

Meanwhile the Tories claim Labour would leave families £2,000 out of pocket. But the calculations behind it are based on assumptions, as Labour has not yet published it manifesto, and the Tories assume Labour’s plans would be funded by taxes rather than possible borrowing.

Mr Sunak defends his record on the basis of the COVID furlough scheme – which he oversaw as chancellor – and the fact inflation has finally fallen to 2.3%, down from a 42-year record high of 11.1% in October 2022.

But external factors worked in the PM’s favour.

The worst price shocks from the war in Ukraine (namely on fuel and food) eased regardless of government policies.

But falling inflation does not mean falling prices, and any amount of inflation still means prices are rising on top of already higher costs.

Wage growth has now overtaken inflation – but there’s still a gap between how much prices have increased vs wages in the long run, according to ONS data.

This, combined with stubbornly high interest rates which increase the cost of mortgage rates and other loans, explains why people are still feeling the pinch.

Can anyone ‘fix’ the NHS?

Are waiting times going up or down? This is a question on which the leaders are likely to disagree.

The number of outstanding appointments for NHS England peaked at 7.8 million last August – and has since inched down to 7.5 million.

But as other parties love to point out, the waiting list is still 300,000 appointments higher than the 7.2 million in January 2023, when Mr Sunak originally pledged to cut it.

Labour say it would get waiting times back down to a maximum of four months – as per the NHS target – by the end of their first term.

Apple news NHS waiting list

They’d do this by adding “40,000 extra appointments and operations every week”, including more on evenings and weekends, and buying more equipment.

Sky News analysis has shown that these measures alone may do little to bridge the gap, however.

It takes five additional NHS appointments to remove one treatment pathway from the waiting list, according thinktank The Heath Foundation.

With this conversion rate, Labour’s 40,000 additional appointments equates to 8,000 removed from the waiting list, shown in the bar in orange in the chart above – still falling far short of tackling demand.

How would they approach migration?

Both leaders are keen to position themselves as tough on migration, saying that the record levels of net migration since Brexit in 2016 – reaching 685,000 last year – are too high.

Mr Sunak claims his plans, which include the controversial Rwanda deportation policy and an unspecified cap on net migration numbers, are the answer.

Apple News net migration

But, as Sky News analysis has already shown, caps have failed in the past.

Former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May both vowed to cap net migration in the “tens of thousands”. Both failed.

Meanwhile, the Rwanda policy addresses only a tiny fraction of overall numbers, despite its hefty price tag.

It is already set to cost £370m before any removals take place, according to government spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO), and could reach an estimated £661m.

It is designed to deter small boats crossings, but these make up only a fraction of asylum claims, and asylum seekers accounted for only 81,000 migrants last year, compared with 432,000 workers and 379,000 students.

Apple news Rwanda in context

Labour have confirmed they will scrap the scheme “straight away”, while the Conservatives have a poor track record of implementing the scheme, so it remains to be seen what the final bill will be.

Nearly two thirds (64%) of 229,000 workers visas granted in 2023 were for healthcare roles like nurses and care workers.

The Tories say their Albania deal shows that deterrence works, with numbers down 90%.

Labour has pledged to “reform resettlement routes to stop people being exploited by gangs”.

Are they really that different on climate and net zero?

Climate and environment comes in fifth in the list of voters’ concerns, according to one YouGov poll.

Yet we have heard fairly little about it recently – the Tories in the last year wanting to distance themselves from it.

A key dividing line is whether to pump more oil and gas from the North Sea.

Mr Sunak wants to “max out” what’s left. Labour says it would stop issuing licences for new projects.

But even though it opposes them, if elected Labour would not actually revoke those handed out by the Tories – which environmentalists have criticised.

The Conservative manifesto says more extraction would “provide energy to homes and businesses across the country”.

But it’s somewhat of a storm in a teacup, because there isn’t much oil or gas left in the North Sea anyway.

The red and blue lines in the chart above show how much – or little – extra the UK might get from new licences – so the decision is more symbolic.

The Tories say they will back renewables, but haven’t really lifted an effective ban on onshore wind farms as promised. Labour wants to double onshore wind power to 35GW by 2030.

Labour’s plans to plug the wells in the North Sea are already putting off some oil majors from turning on the taps at existing projects – and could kill off thousands of jobs, the industry lobby group Offshore Energies UK says.

In reality the parties are more aligned than some of their members would have us believe.

Both back some form of windfall tax until 2029, want to decarbonise most or all electricity by 2030, plan to drive up EVs and want to ramp up solar and offshore wind.

How bad was Sunak’s D-Day gaffe?

It seems no one in Sunak’s team thought an early departure from D-Day commemorations in Normandy would matter.

But oh how it did, drawing criticism from his own party, Labour, and the general public alike.

The polls have not been kind either.

A snap YouGov survey showed two thirds (65%) of those surveyed found the behaviour to be completely or somewhat unacceptable. This rose to three quarters (75%) among the 65+ age group.

Apple News D Day poll

This was a gift to Labour, and something Starmer will likely want to capitalise on during tonight’s debate.

Battle for no 10 promo
Image:
Battle for no 10 promo


The Battle For Number 10 Leaders Special Event, Wednesday 12 June 7pm-10pm on Sky News – free wherever you get your news.

Freeview channel 233, Sky 501, Virgin 603, BT 313 and streaming on the Sky News website, app and across social channels. It is also available to watch on Sky Showcase.

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