Election campaign day 18: Sunak keeps head down as D-Day row rages

Rishi Sunak was absent from the campaign trail on Sunday but close ally Mel Stride insisted there was “no question” that he would lead the Tories on polling day.

Here are the key moments from day 18 of the campaign:

– Going nowhere 

The Tories were quick to quash rumours that Rishi Sunak could quit as Prime Minister before polling day to allow someone else the chance to boost Conservative chances at the ballot box.

Speculation about the unlikely-sounding scenario had been fuelled by former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, an arch-critic of the Prime Minister, who said late on Saturday there were “rumours around tonight that Sunak’s about to fall on his sword” in the wake of the D-Day row.

But Cabinet minister Mel Stride, who helped run Mr Sunak’s leadership campaign, said the Prime Minister would “absolutely” be in place for polling day and suggested there was time for the Tories to turn around their campaign.

He told Sky’s Sir Trevor Phillips: “To your point about whether ‘all is lost’, we have four weeks, that’s a long time in politics.”

–  Away from the spotlight 

Mr Sunak himself was keeping a low profile on Sunday, away from the media, after a Saturday event at which he dodged questions from reporters.

General Election campaign 2024
Rishi Sunak’s absence from the international D-Day 80th anniversary event continued to cause difficulties for the Tories (Abaca Press/Alamy/PA)

A Labour source said the Tory campaign was “descending further into farce” and “Sunak will surely have to come out of hiding soon and explain how families can afford five more years of this madness”.

– New skirmish in political Battle of Normandy

Nigel Farage was accused of using “dog whistle” tactics by claiming Rishi Sunak’s early exit from the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations showed he did not understand “our culture”.

Labour’s Shabana Mahmood said his criticism of the British-Asian Prime Minister was “completely unacceptable” while Mr Stride said it left him feeling “very uncomfortable”.

Asked what he meant by his comments, Mr Farage told BBC1’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg that Mr Sunak “is utterly disconnected by class, by privilege, from how the ordinary folk in this country feel”.

Meanwhile, Mr Stride suggested the Prime Minister had been hurt by the backlash to his decision to skip the international event on Omaha Beach in Normandy.

“I think he will be feeling this personally, very deeply because he’s a deeply patriotic person. He will be deeply uncomfortable with what has happened,” Mr Stride told Sky News.

– No return to austerity

Labour’s manifesto will commit the party to not increasing income tax, national insurance or VAT despite the parlous state of the public finances.

Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said both Labour and the Tories “don’t really want to talk about the scale of the challenge facing them” in terms of public spending.

Because they had ruled out increasing “simple taxes”, he told Sky’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips there was a risk of ending up with “complicated and actually quite economically damaging taxes” in order to avoid spending cuts across the public sector.

But on a campaign visit in Essex, Sir Keir Starmer said his priority was to raise money by growing the economy and insisted “we are not returning to austerity”.

– Class warfare

Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry acknowledged that her party’s plan to charge private schools VAT could increase class sizes in the state sector as parents switch to save money.

The shadow attorney general told GB News there were spaces in her local primary and secondary schools and if the private pupils wanted to come there “it’s fine”.

“If we have to, in the short term, have larger classes, we have larger classes,” she said.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said that would mean Sir Keir’s party “punishing children to pay for their plans”, with pupils “impacted by Labour’s politics of envy”.

– Picture of the day

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer talks to the media at a General Election campaign event in Grays, Essex (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Quote of the day

– Social media moment

Despite keeping away from press cameras, Mr Sunak posted a picture on his X feed showing him stroking a dog – which appeared to be wearing a Tory rosette – in Bedale.

The North Yorkshire town was part of his constituency but boundary changes have moved it into the neighbouring Thirsk and Malton seat.

– What’s happening tomorrow?

The Liberal Democrats will launch their manifesto at the start of a week which is also expected to see the Tories and Labour set out their promises to the nation.

Mr Sunak will face Nick Robinson for a BBC Panorama special interview at 8pm.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage will lead a press conference to set out his plans for the economy.