OPINION - The Standard View: Election debates do matter, but are rarely decisive

 (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
(Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

As is customary at the start of a general election campaign, there is a debate about the debates. Rishi Sunak, 20 points behind in the polls, wants as many of them as possible. Sir Keir Starmer, 20 points ahead, as few.

Debates do make an impact. Voters still recall “I agree with Nick” from 2010, while Sunak came to national attention when filling in for Boris Johnson in 2019. But they have never been decisive. Given the tumultuous events of the past four-and-a-half years, from partygate and inflation to the Liz Truss “mini-Budget”, the Prime Minister is not a solid debate performance away from level-pegging.

One person many voters would have liked to see less of is Jeremy Corbyn. The former Labour leader, under whom antisemitism flourished and the party was investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, is to stand in Islington North as an independent. A period of silence on his part would have been welcome.

A notable success

New train lines are not eligible to stand for Parliament, but if they were, the Elizabeth line would win easily. The service has now carried 350 million passengers since it opened its doors two years ago. And it’s not done yet, with TfL predicting a further eight per cent rise in the coming year.

It bears repeating: a railway line which did not exist two years ago is now the country’s best-used and second most punctual railway (only Greater Anglia comes in above it). The Elizabeth line is also repaying its hefty price tag, having delivered an estimated £42 billion boost to the economy, according to City Hall. No doubt, it has been pivotal in the capital’s post-pandemic recovery.

Politicians and policymakers take note — when our infrastructure projects are backed, they succeed. London remains the engine of UK GDP and attempts to level-down the city are not only misguided, but will harm the wider economy. Moreover, with 75 constituencies there is plenty of political capital to be gained as well.

You made a difference

It’s official. The Evening Standard’s 2023 Winter Survival Appeal in partnership with Comic Relief raised more money than any other newspaper appeal last year, according to independent analysis.

Our campaign raised a remarkable £2.45 million, once again highlighting the Standard as the nation’s foremost campaigning newspaper. On its own, our partnership with Comic Relief accounted for nearly 40 per cent of the total raised across the country.

Thank you to all the individuals and businesses that contributed, supporting children and families struggling in London and around the UK. You made a real difference.