Mashal Husain: How I’ll judge the BBC leaders’ debate with the voters at its heart

  • author, Written by Mishal Hussein
  • Role, BBC Prime Minister’s Debate presenter

On Wednesday evening, in a debate arena set up in the atrium of Nottingham Trent University, the two men who want to lead the country will face each other head-on for the last time in this election campaign.

As Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer go head-to-head, I will chair the 75-minute debate, aiming to get voters’ questions answered – as fully as possible.

I see this role as a privilege, but I know it won’t be easy, and I have sometimes wished someone else would take the wheel and I could watch from my couch. But these moments pass.

These events rarely happen and have a very special quality – at their heart lies unfiltered democracy, where people can speak directly to those who hold power and those who seek it.

With millions more watching, listening and passing judgment, it can be an unforgiving spotlight on leaders. But with less than a week until Election Day, the stakes are high and they must rise to the scrutiny.

I’ve held two G7 leaders debates before, in 2017 and earlier this month. Each time there are different complexities, and as you prepare by brushing up on your knowledge of each party’s main policies – and their points of difference – you also need spontaneity and energy. Really proper discussion, not a speech.

We’ll say this at the beginning of the programme, for maximum transparency, and we’ll also explain why the two men are standing where they are and the order in which they will deliver their closing thoughts. Spoiler – it’s a coin flip.

You can watch the debate live on BBC iPlayer and BBC One, tonight, Wednesday 26 June, at 20:15 GMT.

More details on how to follow the debate, as well as future and past discussions of this campaign, can be found here.

Once we get to the point, the discussion will continue in the same vein for an hour and a quarter. When necessary, I will prompt the two men to go back to what was in the question, and clarify the points, and I may have to pause from time to time.

I cannot predict what the overall tone will be, because that depends on the debaters, for whom these 75 minutes hold opportunity and risk. They will not know what questions are coming, and the experience will be difficult and perhaps revealing.

But it is also a path through which they can reach millions of people – some of whom have not yet decided how they will vote.

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