Rishi Sunak's gaffe-prone start to election campaign: It never rains but it pours

Rishi Sunak walks back into 10 Downing Street after his soggy election announcement (AP)
Rishi Sunak walks back into 10 Downing Street after his soggy election announcement (AP)

Has Labour installed a saboteur in Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ)?

That was the exasperated query posed by former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson after a series of gaffes marred the first few days of Rishi Sunak’s election campaign.

It all started with a biblical downpour.

Day Zero (May 22) - Like tears in rain

A thousand memes are born as Mr Sunak braves the elements - and the boombox of professional protester Steve Bray playing Things Can Only Get Better - to make his surprise election announcement outside No10.

The forecast was indeed for heavy rain. But the man with a plan to turn the country around has decided to go without an umbrella. His nicely tailored suit ends up looking tighter than ever.


Will the polls also tighten thanks to this act of defiance, or will the PM find himself drowning in mockery? Reactions at home and in the world’s media tend toward the latter, while several wrong-footed Conservative MPs are seen drowning their sorrows in Westminster pubs that night.

Day One (May 23) - Sunak's brewery blunder

Never mind, it’s down to business with a four-nation tour of the UK. A minor embarrassment ensues at the first stop in Derbyshire when it turns out that two of the questioners in the sparse crowd are Tory councillors, there to make life easier for the PM.

Worse is to come when, in Cardiff, Mr Sunak asks brewery workers if they’re looking forward to Euro 2024. It’s a sore point, after the Wales football team agonisingly lost out on qualification in a penalty shootout.

Baroness Davidson conjoins the words “brewery” and “piss-up”, tweeting: “Is there a double agent in CCHQ, and were they a headline writer in a previous life? Our candidates deserve better.”

Day Two (May 24) - Iceberg, dead ahead!

The whirlwind tour brings the PM to Belfast. Someone in the advance team decided it was a good idea to take him to the birthplace of the Titanic, where the liner was built before setting sail on her doomed maiden voyage in 1912.

With crushing inevitability, a reporter asks Mr Sunak if he is “captaining a sinking ship”. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (who is stepping down as an MP) cannot hide his smirk.

On the flight back to England, to more campaigning in the Birmingham area, Mr Sunak successfully avoids any icebergs in another round of questioning and insists he is “up for the fight”.

This time he is dry. He looks determined. But, in a gift to photographers, he is stood right under the plane’s ‘Exit’ sign.

(When Liz Truss addressed the Tory conference during her short-lived premiership, aides made sure not to let her linger near Exit signs in the Birmingham conference venue. It was one of the few things she got right.)

Day Five (May 27) - Wish you were here

So far, it’s all been fairly cosmetic stuff. But now more serious fissures emerge with the leak of a CCHQ email (sent to the wrong address list) which accuses Conservative MPs of refusing to work harder on the campaign.

One cited for “lack of cooperation” is Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister and MP for Wycombe. It turns out he is on holiday in Greece. Also unhelpfully for the PM, Mr Baker slams a bold new campaign proposal to restore national service for all 18 year olds.

Cabinet members appear confused about how it would work in practice. But the sense of a gang who can’t shoot straight is reinforced when it emerges that defence minister Andrew Murrison had ruled out “any form” of national service just two days before the announcement.

Still, despite whatever lack of effort, at least Tory MPs all believe in electing Tories, right? Well…. Lucy Allan, who is standing down at the election, endorses the Reform candidate in her Telford constituency.

The next day on May 28, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride calls her move “regrettable” but insists that other Tory candidates are fighting “tooth and nail” up and down the country.

There are still more than five weeks to go before the General Election on July 4. A record 77 Tory MPs, including Mr Heaton-Harris, Michael Gove and former PM Theresa May, have decided to call time already.